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The Calls Will Go On: NPSTW & The Titanic Anniversary

Author: Dave Larton

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-04-07
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The second full week of April has been dedicated by Congress as "National Public Safety Telecommunicators’ Week".    NPSTW was first envisioned in 1981 by Patricia Anderson of the Contra Costa County (CA) Sheriff’s Department.  The Virginia and North Carolina Chapters of APCO joined in during the 1980's, and APCO convinced Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) to introduce HR 284 in 1992, creating the "National Public Safety Telecommuniators Week".  After being renewed by Congress again in 1993 and 1994, the NPSTW became a permanent event dedicated to recognizing our 9-1-1 telecommunicators across the nation.

Did you know that there is a link between the NPSTW and one of the greatest disasters of the twentieth century?  This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912.  How can answering a 9-1-1 line or monitoring a radio channel be related to an event over one hundred years ago?

We've all known that the Titantic sank after striking an iceberg during its maiden voyage between Southampton, England and New York., causing the loss of 1517 passengers and crew.  The RMS Carpathia was credited with saving 710 souls after the ship's wireless operator heard Titanic's distress signal, although several earlier calls for help were not received due to the wireless operator being on the bridge of the ship.   Another ship, the SS Californian, was actually only a few miles from the stricken passenger liner, but did not hear any of Titanic's wireless calls because their wireless operator had gone off duty for the night.

As a result of the subsequent investigation by the United States Coast Guard, new maritime regulations were created that would help ensure safety in the event of another major disaster.  One of these new regulations mandated that a wireless operator be required to monitor distress frequencies twenty-four hours a day.  The Coast Guard would also begin monitoring maritime frequencies for vessels in distress.   Previously, wireless channels were mainly used to send routine personal messages between ship passengers and their businesses on shore.  This was the first time the United States had attempted to regulate our nation's airwaves.  These regulations would later be revised under the Communications Act of 1934, leading to the Federal Communications Commission, then on to the technology of 9-1-1, and to the important role that you play on the phone and radio today.

One hundred years after the Titanic tragedy, our 9-1-1 telecommunicators continue to monitor our radio channels for those in distress.  Dispatchers and calltakers continue the long tradition of assisting those in need, begun by wireless operators in the North Atlantic a hundred years ago. 

Associate Editor Dave Larton has been involved with public safety for 35 years, 15 of them in dispatch.  He is currently the State ACS Training Officer for the Auxiliary Communications Service,Telecommunications Branch of the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA). He also serves as the Deputy State RACES Officer for the state Radio Amateur in Civil Emergency Service (RACES) program.  A nationally known dispatch instructor, Dave continues to provide training and consulting services for dispatchers and PSAP managers through First Contact 9-1-1.

NPSTW logo via 911 Dispatch Magazine.


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