It’s nice to be recognized and appreciated for hard work and for going the extra mile. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it becomes a motivating factor for doing more, reaching higher goals and often serving the community better — especially in the public-safety sector. So it was a pleasant surprise when NICE Systems announced the winners of its 2010 PSAPs’ Finest Awards. Now in its fifth year, the annual public-safety awards program recognizes top performers in public-safety answering points (PSAPs) for their contributions to first-responder communications.

Barry Ritter of the Wayne County (Ind.) Emergency Communications Department received the Director of the Year award. As director, Ritter convinced nine rural counties across southeastern Indiana to pursue an IP-based platform for wireline and wireless 911 calls. Ritter said the move enabled each jurisdiction to operate on a shared-resource platform. Working regionally also let them secure additional grant funding, he said.
Public-safety service has been a lifelong journey for Ritter. He began his 26-year career by working part-time as a sheriff’s department dispatcher while pursuing a criminal justice degree at Vincennes University in Vincennes, Ind. He then worked as a police officer in Richmond, Ind., for 20 years — becoming a second-generation, law-enforcement officer.

“It ran in the family,” he said. “My father was a police officer, and I just decided that’s what I wanted to do and I followed in his footsteps.”

Ritter retired from the force and in January 2007 accepted a director position with the Wayne County PSAP, the only one in the county. At that time, he saw inefficiencies in county-wide, public-safety communications and wanted to put everyone on the same platform. For a regional IP communications deployment to work, he needed to convince county commissioners — who are responsible for 911 services — that it was efficient to share equipment across 911 centers, instead of each operating its own system supported by the local telecom provider.

“Sharing a resource with not only one other government but across nine counties — and getting everyone to understand how that would work and why it would work — was a challenge,” he said.

Ritter said that the biggest lesson he’s learned from his more than a quarter-century in law enforcement is the importance of learning about the communication technologies’ options available today.

“The options are wide open with today’s technology and what it has to offer your state or your community,” he said. “Be open-minded.”

In June, Ritter left Wayne County to become executive director of the Indiana Wireless Enhanced 911 Advisory Board.

Recognizing top-performers makes good business sense, whether in commercial or public-safety markets. It’s gratifying to see a person like Ritter — who dedicated his life to the safety of others — receive the recognition he deserves.