He knows ‘911’: Holcomb honors Ed Reuter for dedication to helping people get help

A retired Indiana State Police commander who directed Bartholomew County’s 911 Emergency Operations Center for 10 years before he was chosen to head Indiana’s 911 emergency services was honored by the state Wednesday afternoon as he officially retired.

Gov. Eric Holcomb presented the Sagamore of the Wabash award to Columbus’ Ed Reuter, in a ceremony in Indianapolis. The award honors an individual who has rendered a distinguished service to the state or to the governor.

“It was a privilege to honor long-time leader, Ed Reuter, with the Sagamore of the Wabash Award for his life-saving work on the State 911 Board and his meaningful and lasting contributions to Indiana,” Holcomb said.

”Ed had dedicated 48 years of his life to helping people when they need it most. His legacy of commitment to a greater good will continue to inspire Hoosiers in the years to come. I’m grateful that people like him, call themselves a Hoosier,” Holcomb said.

Reuter, 68, was described in one word by current 911 center director Todd Noblitt: “Invaluable.”

Reuter has always understood that seconds can save lives during an emergency response, Noblitt said. For that reason, he has consistently tried to improve on both the quality and speed of service provided by emergency dispatchers.

A 1972 graduate of Evansville Central High School, Reuter began his law-enforcement career in 1974 as a 20-year-old dispatcher in Evansville. He then became a trooper for the Indiana State Police Seymour district in 1977, and worked his way up to post commander in 1991.

While the Seymour post was eventually closed, Reuter was promoted to supervisor of the ISP Motor Carrier division in 2002.

In February 2007, Reuter was chosen to succeed the retiring Lester England as director of Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center. Under Reuter’s leadership, the center “ran like a well-oiled machine,” making it “shine and flourish,” Noblitt said.

“Ed was instrumental whenever new technology came out,” according to Noblitt. “He would research it and see if it was a good fit for our community.”

During Reuter’s tenure, a new “text-to-911” program was implemented to allow county residents to seek help through texts on cell phones. The program was a pilot program in Bartholomew County before being implemented in May 2014.

It is now being used across the nation, requiring that each inbound 911 call or text — where no one is on the line or responds — will receive a text message back asking if emergency help is needed.

In earlier interviews, Reuter noted that there are thousands more outbound texts than inbound in the text program. Each dispatcher must check to make sure the individual who contacted 911 did so by mistake or perhaps couldn’t speak but needed help.

“This Text-to-911 program has grown and grown,” Reuter said, describing it as the future of emergency services due to the prevalence of cell phones around the nation.

After 10 years leading the Bartholomew County’s Emergency Operations Center, Reuter was appointed in May 2017 to succeed Barry Ritter as executive director of Indiana’s statewide 911 Board.

The organization administers collection and distribution of 911 funding assistance from the state to the local level. In addition, the board oversees the statewide 911 network, which routes and delivers wireless 911 voice and text messages from the public to the local 911 authority.

The board also ensures that new technology is available and widely deployed to meet the public’s expectations — and to meet the individual needs for all Indiana residents and visitors.

Reuter said he enjoys the irony that he started his career as an emergency dispatcher for a single agency – but is retiring as an advocate for nearly every emergency dispatching operation in all 92 Indiana counties. It’s a group consisting of 2,200 dispatchers who answer about 5 million 911 calls per year.

“Who would have ever thought I would come full-circle like that?” he said.

Although he has a reputation of promoting technology, Reuter said the most important aspect of his job has been building relationships and trust with the people he has met and worked with in Bartholomew County, as well as at dispatch centers across the state.

“We can make a lot of investments in technology, but if we don’t train our people, the technology isn’t going to be worth the investment,” Reuter said.

That’s why Reuter was delighted last winter with the approval of Indiana Senate Bill 158, which reimburses units of government for provide basic and continuing education for public safety communicators (emergency dispatchers), he said.

Although he calls the statewide job “awesome,” Reuter said his responsibilities required him to be on the road more than any other position he has held. He estimates that he has visited about 111 “public answering safety points” (emergency dispatch centers) in every Indiana county.

Although Reuter won’t be working a full-time job, he is likely to establish a consulting business to assist those who might benefit from his background. But he also feels he owes some quality time to Lisa Reuter, his wife of almost 50 years.

He is being succeeded as the head of the state’s 911 board by Jeff Schemmer, who had served as the executive director of the Hamilton County Public Safety Communications Center.