Q&A with 911inform’s Mark Fletcher, VP of Public Safety

Q&A with 911inform’s Mark Fletcher, VP of Public Safety


Tell us a brief history about your career.

In 1980 I started as a Special Police Officer and Police Dispatcher in my hometown in NJ. After five years there, I went to work for my father and ran a software company in Florida up until 1990. Returning to New Jersey, I took a position as the telecommunications manager at a local ski resort, where I maintained their telephone infrastructure across their three ski areas and resort properties. In 1995, I was recruited by Bell Atlantic as a service technician for corporate PBX systems. It was here where I started to fine-tune my enterprise 911 skill set, developing solutions, and implementing them for commercial customers. With Y2K Bing, the hot topic in telephony, I went to work for UBS Swiss bank in Connecticut, where I ran global Voice Engineering for their voice network. It was there where I implemented several 911 solutions in their larger locations. After a successful Y2K rollout, in 2003 I was hired by Nortel as a systems architect, where I continued to focus on Public Safety solutions for the enterprise. In 2009, I was transferred over to AVAYA after their acquisition of Nortel, where I was the Chief Architect for public safety solutions. There, I focused on the Dev Connect Program cultivating new innovation and capabilities for enterprise 911, while representing AVAYA on several federal committees at the FCC and Industry organizations like NENA and APCO. In 2013, I became aware of the tragic murder of Kari Hunt and worked with Hank Hunt, her father, on developing Kari’s Law and bringing it to the oval office where it became the law of the land in 2018. Today, I work on next-generation 911 solutions, bringing them to market with affordable innovation for the enterprise.

What led you to a career path in emergency response services?

I always had an affinity for public safety while growing up. When I was 16, I joined my local EMS squad, where I eventually became an EMT. This introduced me to the local public safety community in my Township, in my ultimate position as a Dispatcher. What fascinated me the most about public safety was the communications element. Telecommunications, land mobile radio, and computers interested me throughout my formidable years, and dispatching brought that all together with my passion for being a first responder. It was absolutely the perfect storm of everything that interested me as far as a career went. Remember, back then there was no Internet, there were no cell phones, and only the cool people had pagers on their belts. The only form of social media was a citizen’s band radio in your car!

What is the biggest obstacle you have faced in your line of work?

By far, the biggest obstacle that I continue to face is misinformation. Because public safety technology is displayed on a TV in an unrealistic environment, the overall public perception of what is possible is terribly skewed. Only a fraction of what is pictured is actual reality, but the belief is that it is all commonplace and widely available. When proposing a new technology to some people, you must over-explain what is and is not reality. Fortunately, things are getting better, and technology is migrating forward in the public safety space. The unfortunate side is that it has been stagnant for nearly 50 years with minimal investment and advancement, and many intelligent individuals are jaded by the technology acceleration in almost every other industry.

How do you try to catch people’s attention about the issues concerning 911 services?

Shock and awe. When I first heard the story of Kari, Hank Hunt’s daughter, and her tragic senseless brutal murder, I told Hank that I could absolutely help him. But I needed him to tell the story as she was his daughter. That story is so brutal, and so shocking, that I have seen audiences of 300 hardened 911 call takers in complete tears when hearing it. As unfortunate as it is, sometimes you need to grab people by the collar and shake a little to get them to listen and understand. But, what the last 7 years have taught me, is if the story is real, and has an impact, people will listen and act.

What do you envision being the ideal emergency response service in the U.S?

I honestly believe that once the engine 911 Emergency Services IP Network is completed and operational, we’ll see a technology boom that has not been seen since the introduction of the Internet. The world has been interconnected, and wireless technology is prevalent in every segment of our lives. The sheer amount of data available, and the intelligent AI platforms that are being developed to consume and interpret this data, will allow new technologies that we have not even thought about yet to proliferate into our daily lives. If I had a more specific answer, I’d be running Google or Amazon. I just know that it will happen, and it’s going to be really cool when it gets here.

Why do you want to make an impact in the industry?

I love technology. I hate it when technology that can save lives, is left fallow and unused. On October 12, 2009, I suffered from a brain aneurysm. My nine-year-old daughter picked up my work IP phone and dialed 911. While direct dial 911 worked, based on my efforts, the call went to a 911 dispatcher in Dallas Texas where the MLTS was located. I, unfortunately, live in New Jersey. When the name on call taker saw, “Nortel Networks, Richardson Texas” on the display, but a frightened 9-year-old told them that her daddy was passed out in the living room, something obviously did not make sense. That brave hero dispatcher snapped into emergency mode and did the only thing they could do to save my life. They told my daughter to grab another phone and dial 911. They did this knowing that the phone next to them would ring and they would have a tremendous problem, or by the grace of God, my daughter would reach the proper 911 center, which was the case fortunately for me. They then told my daughter what to say on that 911 call for her to trigger an ALS (advanced life support) response. Fortunately, a unit was just clearing an emergency close to my house and was on the scene in just a few minutes, where they proceeded to save my life. After six weeks in a coma, and three months out of work, I came back with new vigor to fix this simple problem so no one else’s daughter would have to go through that traumatic experience.

What is your greatest influence upon the industry so far?

Clearly, the work that I did along with Hank Hunt on Kari’s Law. Not only did it fix direct 911 access from any telephone, but it inspired other legislation. An example is the RAY BOMBS Act §506, which now requires a dispatchable location to be sent to public safety dispatchers as well as on-site staff with a 911 call as dialed. This legislation, and the ability to speak and address the commercial user community, allows me to create a sense of awareness about an easy problem to fix that has terrible tragic repercussions.

What is the most important thing you want people to understand about emergency response services?

240 million times a year 911 is dialed by US citizens. Most of the time, everything works just fine, and many lives are saved. When we become complacent about technology and just assume that it will work, brings about the biggest exposure for failure. Knowledge is power, ignorance is fatal. Don’t let your ignorance create a fatal situation for someone else.

What change have you seen in 911 services since you first emerged into the industry?

The biggest addition to public safety technology has been the Internet. Prior to this huge web of interconnectivity, technology was siloed, and agencies were isolated from each other for the most part. IP communications, wireless broadband, and overall connectivity have allowed the industry to flourish through collaboration, and the sharing of information. NG911 services are extending that web of connectivity to the public, the smart devices that they carry with them, and a whole host of IoT devices that are prevalent in the world around us. Well, we need to be cognizant not to paint ourselves into a “big brother” corner, allowing communication and collaboration to be utilized for public safety services will absolutely save lives, and has worldwide. I’m honored to be a small sliver of that overall solution in technology for the future.

How did you get started with 911inform and why did the company attract you?

For many years, I heard about this eccentric man “Ivo”, and the wonderful technology that he had developed for Public Safety. I also knew that he was purposely keeping it out of my sight until it was fully baked and ready for prime time, as he knew I was a tough dude when it comes to technology, and would not stand for anything that was second rate, or below par. In the Fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to see his product in action, and I must admit I was floored by what I saw. He had brought together everything that I previously developed to enable transitional NG911 services into the existing environment, and then, as the famous Spinal Tap reference goes, “turned it up to 11”. I almost immediately decided that this was where I wanted to be; this is where I needed to be; this is where they needed ME to be. In March 2020, the pandemic brought forth an opportunity for me to move on from AVAYA but leave it in the good hands of my manager who carried the same quest for excellence that I had carried for many years. I began the next chapter of my life and career working with the talented team at 911inform.