A Black Emergency Services Tech Shares Stories From the Front Lines

According to NENA 911 Association, an estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year.

Since the beginning of quarantine, we collectively have heard stories around the country from nurses and doctors. While there is no denying that these professionals are vital to fighting this deadly virus, there are plenty of other Essential Workers worth shining the spotlight on.

This made me think of those working for Emergency Services. We rely on 911 to help us in a crisis. But what is it like trying to keep citizens safe in dire situations without risking exposure to COVID-19?

I had the pleasure of interviewing Bryce Lennon, a GIS tech currently working in Emergency Communications.


Can you tell me more about your position in Emergency Communications?

I work in emergency communications as a GIS Technician. My day to day responsibilities range anywhere from updating and managing our geospatial server, to creating maps for the emergency service professionals. In addition, I designed the tile interface for our upcoming computer aided dispatch system.
When did you first become interested in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)?

My earliest experience with GIS goes back to my college days at Elizabeth City State University. Back then, GIS was offered as a minor within the computer science department. After taking one class, I immediately fell in love with geospatial technology. This lead me to my graduate studies at East Carolina University. There, I incorporated GIS with qualitative research to develop and validate a hazards of place model of vulnerability for Northeastern North Carolina. It’s been history ever since!

How long have you been working in Emergency Communications?

I joined the team last summer. More specifically, July of 2019. It’s been almost a year!

What inspires you?

When I take a look at our field, there’s not much diversity. We have a few sprinkles of color here and there, but the realm of GIS is saturated with white males. That said, the potential for diversity is unprecedented, and this is what keeps me going. It’s all about representation!

Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you meet a Black GIS professional, especially one in Emergency Communications. We are few and far between.

I am currently in a position to open doors for other Black and brown faces. I can send the elevator down, and add some color to this floor. Remember, we can find a seat for us at the table too.

What has it been like operating as an Essential Worker during this pandemic?

My experience working through the pandemic was two-fold. On one hand, I saw this as an opportunity to improve my own GIS capabilities. I alternated between mapping different COVID-19 cases within the county and completing my daily work load. On the other hand, I was very nervous. Working during a pandemic can be a little unsettling, especially since we put ourselves at a greater risk of exposure. Nevertheless, there are lives to be saved!

When the shelter-in-place order was first issued, my daily routines were adjusted to minimize exposure to the virus. For instance, our department implemented temperature checks before entering the building, practiced social distancing between work spaces, and reducing the number of workers in and out the building during their eight to twelve hour shifts. These adjustments were made within one week.

As time progressed, the number of emergency calls increased. We received an influx of calls regarding drug overdoses, domestic violence, and looting rather than COVID-19 itself. That said, people were not handling the shelter-in-place well. 

For the last couple of weeks, things have calmed down a bit. Unfortunately, we are anticipating a second wave of positive cases in the fall.

How do recent events regarding the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing protests impact how you show up to work?

Since our department works closely with emergency service professionals, I have to keep my emotions in check at all times. What’s the secret? Don’t take anything personal. It gets me through the work day.

Some of my colleagues have recently shared their opinions regarding the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests. It should come to no surprise that our life experiences have created conflicting viewpoints. Needless to say, I have no qualms with clarifying facts using appropriate resources. Remember, there is no excuse for ignorance in 2020, especially when it relates to systematic oppression and racism.

From your perspective, what should citizens be aware of when dealing with emergencies during this pandemic?

I encourage everyone to follow safety procedures regarding COVID-19. I understand that many of the states have lifted their shelter-in-place orders, but people are still testing positive around the world. Regardless of race, age, and gender, everyone is susceptible to the disease. Keep all those masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves handy. We’re in this for the long haul.
Despite the challenges you face at work, what keeps you motivated?  

Again, it’s all about those Black children who will one day, make an impact on society. I was once in their shoes, and I do it for them.




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