Loudon County E-911 Director Jennifer Estes had no idea she would be presented the Senator Joe Haynes Award when she traveled to Murfreesboro for the annual Tennessee Emergency Number Association conference last month.
"They don't reveal the nominees," she said. "They just present the award, so it was a surprise."
The award is given to nominees that go above and beyond the call of duty, and it is not always presented if applicants fail to meet the criteria. Estes heads a center that receives about 14,000 calls each month, overseeing the entire operation.
But that was not the sole reason for her nomination.
E-911 Assistant Director Rose White said Estes deserved the nomination largely based on her advocacy for passing the Kelsey Smith Act last year, making Tennessee currently one of 13 states to enforce it. The bill requires cell phone providers to give emergency service personnel call location information in the event of a life-threatening situation.
Estes said previous legislation required a court order and subpoena to get the phone's location if the person did not call themselves.
"So now if someone else reports that someone else is missing or has been abducted or, you know, something emergent going on that's life threatening, even if that person hasn't called us directly, then we can ping their cell phone based on an emergency circumstance only," Estes said.
Estes said she met Kelsey Smith's mother at a Child Abduction Response Team training in Kansas City in 2011. After hearing Smith's mother tell the struggles her family went through when the 18-year-old girl was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered, Estes made a push to help pass the bill.
She said State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, and State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, both agreed it could be a piece of legislation that would help save lives.
The bill was first introduced into legislature in January 2012 and passed three months later.
"I think as a mom that when there's stuff that happens with children that it's more near and dear to your heart," Estes said. "So when she started telling that story, it made me think of situations that we would be in the same circumstances."
Working with Estes for eight years, White said the nearly 10-year director deserved the award based on her work ethic.
"Jennifer has a passion for 911, a passion for our citizens," White said. "She wants everybody to be taken care of. She goes above and beyond what's asked of her in all of her duties. She holds many positions within 911 and is very well respected among her peers."
Matlock commended Estes on her efforts, and said McNally and he had more co-sponsors on that bill than any others presented at the time because "it made so much sense."
"She thought that is something we've got to do, and so she came back, came to me and said, 'Jimmy, I'll help write this legislation if you'll get down there and pass it'," Matlock said. "It's one of those times in life we hope that we can take a horrible story and, through the information gathered now, we can help locate these people with their cell phone technology.
"I mean, they've already had a number of cases where people's lives have been saved because of what Jennifer and this family are doing," he said.
The law has been used around the state on "multiple cases and lives have been saved as a result," Estes said. She said she remained hopeful the law would eventually be passed nationwide.
"I know that the family has made trips to (Washington, D.C.) hoping on a national level that they can get something done," Estes said. "I think it's something that will take off. There's a huge need for it."
According to the Kelsey Smith Foundation website, seven more states have proposed the bill, and representatives from 11 states have been contacted.
"I think when you are in public safety fields and when you run across things that maybe haven't even presented themselves in our community, but you can see the benefit for them and you can see that it's going to save someone's life later on," Estes said, "that it is your obligation to try to get that to where in the future it's there if it's needed."