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25 Years of 9-1-1 Magazine

Author: Randall D. Larson, Editor

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2014-03-31
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This last winter marked the 25th Anniversary of 9-1-1 Magazine – a quarter century since this independent journal first saw the light of print and paper.  And while it has somewhat reluctantly left its printed origins behind in favor of the light of modern electronically pixilated e-publishing on the World Wide Web, its inherent mission statement hasn’t changed all that much - “To educate, inform and inspire the emergency communications community [and] to find solutions to 9-1-1 and dispatch center management through authoritative, timely, and independent reporting and analysis.” (to see more about our mission and value statement, see

9-1-1 Magazine was born in the Winter of 1988-1989 with a 36-page issue created by the family-run Official Publications Inc [pictured, left].  “OPI saw a niche within the public safety communications industry that was not represented by an independent magazine,” 9-1-1 Magazine’s founding publisher, Jim Voelkl, remarked during the occasion of our 10-year anniversary back in 1999.  He felt there was a place for a magazine like this, that focused on the unsung but all-important communications components of public safety - law enforcement, the fire service, emergency medical services, and related emergency response entities.

In the twenty-five years since that first issue, 9-1-1 telecommunications and land mobile radio technology have developed at an ever-increasing rate, with new systems and avenues of information we never dreamed in those early days.  Digital radio systems?  Pocket-sized phones that can send photos and video of crimes in progress to 9-1-1?  Cloud communications?  What will the next-generation after the next generation of 9-1-1 technology bring?

Since I came on board 9-1-1 Magazine in March 1995, I’ve tried to examine much of this in our pages, peering around the corner and seeing what new tools are being provided for dispatchers to better serve their communities.  But I’ve always felt what is really essential to emergency communications is the human element – that dispatcher or telecommunicator sitting (or perhaps, nowadays, standing) at the console, interacting with the caller and the responders, managing that influx of information, driving that complicated engine of technology.  The tools have changed, the expectations have changed, some of the responsibilities have changed, even the manner in which we ask questions of callers have changed.  What hasn’t changed is that there’s still a person piloting that console, adding professionalism and intuition and human experience, something no machine can yet deliver.

A Personal Anniversary

As I began to look back at the editorial history of 9-1-1 Magazine I realized that this month marks another, more personal, anniversary – it’s my 19th Anniversary as editor 9-1-1 Magazine.  My first issue was the March-April 1995 issue, stepping into the shoes of Alan Burton (and, before him, Joe Bergman and publisher Jim Voelkl) to helm the premiere independent trade magazine for the public safety emergency communications community.  Between then and the end of 2009, when our last printed issue [pictured, right] rolled off the presses as we phased into an online presence here beginning in 2010, I’ve supplied the content and imagery for 103 issues, working with writers, photographers, PSAP managers and personnel, vendors and marketing people, association heads and our own design and advertising staff to get the issues out on town. 

To coin a phrase, it’s certainly been a long, strange trip.

I entered the dispatch profession in October, 1984, just in time to learn the innovation of enhanced 9-1-1 and new-fangled CAD systems that had grown out of handsets and punch-tags.  After seven years I promoted to shift supervisor, most of it – very much by choice – spent on the midnight shift, while also finding opportunities to engage in teaching, developing my interest in field communications teams and mobile communications vehicles – and, as a wordsmith since I was a young child, writing about 9-1-1 communications for a variety of trade magazines.

One of those magazines was 9-1-1 Magazine, the only one outside of organization journals for APCO and NENA that was focusing specifically on the communications aspects of emergency services.  I’d written a few articles for Alan Burton in my spare time; I’d also begun editing a newsletter for own my communications center [pictured, below], which Alan had seen and thus knew I could edit my way around a magazine format.  When Alan decided to leave 9-1-1 Magazine and work full-time at his consulting job (and his associate editor at the time, Gary Allen, declined assuming the editorship), Alan asked if I’d like the position and I eagerly accepted. 

And thus began my excellent adventure with 9-1-1 Magazine, exploring the world within and without my personal night-shift profession, examining with a discerning and analytical eye the operations, technology, and procedures of 9-1-1 telecommunications far beyond my own local boundaries  I’m grateful to have had – and continue to have – the opportunity to communicate via the written word my respect and admiration for the people who inhabit the public safety communications profession, to perhaps inspire some through perspectives that have moved me, or at least have made the world beyond their own consoles a little more interesting by sharing the insights, experiences, and ideology of their professional colleagues just as I have benefitted from the viewpoints of those others, including my associate editor and friend Dave Larton. 

As 9-1-1 Magazine has journeyed from paper to pixel, flown through the Internet’s blazing-fast wormhole of technology and come through the other side with a fully functioning online identity, we hope to be around for another twenty five years.  There may be others at the magazine’s helm by that time, but I am hoping our mission may go on.  It’ll be exciting to see where 9-1-1 Magazine will be then – instead of turning pages or swiping screens on an iPhone, readers of A.D. 2039 may have our articles and news transferred directly into their consciousness, submitted from the Twilight Zone of tomorrow’s technology – or scanned through an inception of micrographics visible by focusing on a tiny screen attached to their personal headset devices like a miniature rear view mirror.  I think, however, that it will be even more fascinating to see where public safety emergency communications will be in the next quarter century – how we’ll communicate with our publics and our responders, what tools we’ll have and what methods of telecommunication and digital radio spectrum we’ll be using to connect responder with public.  Whatever the technology of two decades may bring, I am confident of one thing: there will be an exemplary professional dispatcher working the phones and staffing those radios, just as they are now.

Related Story: 9-1-1 Magazine: A History


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