After more than 30 years of working in the emergency response business, Bill Hinkle thought he was ready to start slowing down. He had been the Director of the Hamilton County Communication Center in Greater Cincinnati, the president of the National Emergency Number Association, and a senior vice president in industry. Life was good, and the idea of retirement didn’t sound so bad.
Just two months later, however, he was hopping planes and speaking to 9-1-1 workers across the country as FirstNet’s Senior 9-1-1 Advisor. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up, he said, because he believes deeply that the FirstNet network will dramatically improve 9-1-1 operators’ communications capabilities.
People understandably think of first responders as firefighters, police and EMS workers. But the messengers of emergency situations -- the 9-1-1 operators – are the key to the ignition. They set things in motion, and get help on the way, Mr. Hinkle said.
“The public counts on them to get the information to other first responders quickly and accurately,” Mr. Hinkle said. “If they don’t, people could be hurt, or lives could be lost. I now get to tell 9-1-1 operators things like, FirstNet will allow them to give information to first responders in the field in real-time. That’s huge!”
We sat down with Bill recently, and following is a transcript of our conversation.
What brought you to FirstNet?
Bill Hinkle: In addition to fully believing in the importance and value that FirstNet will bring to the future of public safety communications, I enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity to work with the men and women who manage and staff our 9-1-1 centers throughout the country.
What was your first public safety role, and what was your latest public safety role?
Bill Hinkle: My first public safety role was as a Park Ranger in Hamilton County, Ohio. Having gone to college in pursuit of a career in the Forest Service, it was a great start.
In 2009, after 33 years in communications, I retired as Director of the Hamilton County Communications Center (HCCC).
HCCC is a consolidated 9-1-1 Public Safety Access Point that serves more than 100 police, fire, and EMS services in 45 political jurisdictions.
What excites you most about a post- FirstNet world?
Bill Hinkle: While it is exciting to imagine all of the possibilities that this technology will offer our first responders, fundamentally the role of public safety communications is to protect the public and our first responders. FirstNet will provide new tools and opportunities to use technology to accomplish both.
What do you wish public safety understood about FirstNet?
Bill Hinkle: Many in public safety communications have yet to fully appreciate the tremendous potential that FirstNet will provide as a vital link between the PSAP and the first responders.
How has first responder/public safety technology evolved since you held your first public safety role?
Bill Hinkle: When I began my career in law enforcement in 1973, portable radios were just being integrated into public safety communications networks. It’s hard to imagine now, but prior to the introduction of portable radios, once outside of their vehicles, our first responders were performing their duties without any means to call for help or assistance.
If you could have a dream public safety application, what would it be?
Bill Hinkle: Any applications, like facial recognition software, that can help us do a better job of locating missing and abducted children would be a dream application to me.
Who do you admire most in public safety today -- and why?
Bill Hinkle: I admire all of the men and women who have chosen a career in public safety communications. But like in any profession, there are always a handful of people who really make a difference. I am reluctant to name any one person, but they all share the same unique personal and professional qualities and attributes that have made them respected leaders in our industry.
What professional activities or volunteer programs are you most proud of?
Bill Hinkle: For the past seven years I have had the privilege of serving as a volunteer for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) Missing Kids and 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Readiness Program.
The program developed and established the first (ANSI) national standard for how 9-1-1 centers receive and process reports of missing and abducted children. Today, hundreds of PSAPs have adopted the standard and have become recognized partners with the NCMEC to ensure that 9-1-1 is doing its part to protect our children.
WATCH: FirstNet and Next Generation 911: The Future of End to End Public Safety Communications