Katrina highlights need for state telecommunicator teams

National Emergency Number Association

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National advocates for an advanced emergency number system say they want states to have teams of trained dispatchers on hand in case disasters damage or destroy 911 centers.

Only a handful of states have recognized teams of dispatchers, or telecommunicators, as they are known. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) wants to assist states in developing similar telecommunicator emergency response teams.

“It’s basically a program put in place so when states experience a situation like [Hurricane] Katrina or a situation where a communication center gets wiped out, they can deploy their own telecommunicators to other states to assist during emergencies and, in fact, they have done that for this particular emergency,” said Patrick Halley, NENA’s government affairs director.

After Katrina struck, officials at North Carolina’s Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (TERT) program received a formal request through the state’s emergency management office to assist with staffing at 911 dispatch centers, also known as Public Safety Answering Points, in St. Tammany’s Parish, La.

Deploying such teams requires formal approval through a national process called the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), Halley said. EMAC is a congressionally ratified agreement among most states to request mutual aid. The agreement also addresses liability and reimbursement issues. The National Emergency Management Association administers the agreement.

Halley said NENA will look at the telecommunicator team models that several states, including North Carolina and Florida, have developed and promote the concept.

“There has been an outpouring of interest from throughout North America and the world for information about how to establish telecommunicator emergency response teams, such as TERT, to share best practices from the lessons of Katrina and to understand the important role of EMAC in the process,” David Jones, NENA’s president, said in a statement.

NENA officials will hold a meeting Oct. 25 in Greensboro, N.C., to provide information to state and local officials on how to create telecommunicator teams.

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