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National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week: What Kind of Holiday is This, Anyway?
May I offer everyone a hearty but belated welcome to the month of April, also designated as 9-1-1 Education Month. More importantly to many, April also contains the annual ritual known as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week (NPSTW). I’ve seen a lot written about these seven days of celebration, and I’ve been known to dedicate a column or two towards the recognition of our craft. Twenty-six years ago some good folks from the West Coast gave birth to the idea, and I still have the button produced by CPRA, the Southern California Chapter of APCO (Association of Public-safety Communications Officials) that made the announcement. Their child has been adopted by many Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) families, yet remains unrecognized at the table of others. More than two decades after this nativity, the weeks leading up to NPSTW still fill the online forums with last minute requests for help in suggesting and planning activities, which leads me to ask this question: “What kind of holiday is this anyway?”
For starters, make no doubt that this is an OFFICIAL holiday. It’s been codified by Congress and proclaimed by the President. Now before you get too excited, keep in mind that the guys in the Oval Office have also memorialized numerous other events that are critical to our social fabric such as National Catfish Day and National Ice Cream Day. After closer inspection, I came to find that ice cream also got its own month, as did Older Americans. At my age, eating Haagen Daz unrestricted for 30 days may require a knowledge of the national emergency number, so I suspect that trifecta is there for a reason.
Part of our confusion, I suspect, rests in the lack of rituals to be observed. National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week falls close on the calendar to a number of religious observances. While many faith-based rituals involve dietary restrictions, you can be assured that all bets are off when it comes to partying like it’s 9-1-1, and a list of the activities planned “our seven days” are highly caloric in nature.
However, there is no telecommunicator tree, no hanging of headsets on the consoles with care, no dispatch carols. Silent Night certainly takes on a new meaning to those superstitious about even muttering the word “quiet.” Perhaps, more importantly, Hallmark has not yet grasped the concept. That’s right. Go to Target, or WalMart, or your local stationary store and you likely won’t find one decent TC week card! No sappy prose to win the heart, no double-entendre, no wise-cracking attempt at humor, no embedded device to play the theme from Cops as the cover is opened. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Keep in mind that we now have offerings for “Sweetest Day.” If you haven’t heard of it, it can be best described as an event to recycle all that was not sold on Valentine’s Day. But, alas, no cards for us nor special bouquet from 1-800-FLOWERS. My personal research, though, does show extensive reliance upon online meme generators as a means of celebration.
Whether or not we understand what it is, we have grown fiercely protective of our holiday. I remember a time when 9/11 was honored as Emergency Number Day. This even got an official proclamation, too. Of course, this was before 2001 changed everything. At one point, we celebrated “National Telecommunicators Week,” but as of late we fiercely insure the inclusion of the all-important “Public Safety” term in the title in order to brand it as our own. We may not be sure what to do with it, but dammit, it’s ours.
The take away from all this, is that National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week is what we collectively make it. Like many times of celebration, it is the observance of activities that transcend a single day or week or month or year. The Thanksgiving turkey and dressing do not simply reflect a hearty meal on a late November Thursday, but rather the ongoing sharing of family and friendships. What is now Veteran’s Day in honor of all that served started life as Armistice Day to mark the end of the First World’s War. The origin of Memorial Day and the remembrance of those who have fallen was to honor Union Civil War soldiers. Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, once individually recognized, have now consolidated into a single President’s Day. And so it goes. Holidays change, and there are many unique ways of celebration.
The important thing is not what your neighbors do or don’t do for Telecommunicators Week. It’s what you do year-round. So, start your own traditions. Get a proclamation from your governing body. Invite the media to sit it and take a call. Have a field day. Wear silly hats. It doesn’t matter. What matters most is that you don’t forget the folks who do the heavy lifting the other 51 weeks, as well. Because that’s the kind of holiday this is.
With more than 45 years’ experience in public safety, including managing large consolidated dispatch centers in four states, Barry Furey now serves as a trainer and consultant for the 9-1-1 and public safety communications community. See www.barryfurey.com