Psychological Science Major Karin Nordin ’15 Wins National Speech Competition

Posted on May 4th, 2015 by

Karin Nordin '15

Karin Nordin ’15

Gustavus Adolphus College senior Karin Nordin ’15 won the prestigious Interstate Oratorical Association (IOA) National Contest on April 24-25 at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. Nordin is the fourth Gustavus student to win the 141-year-old competition and joins previous Gustavus champions Ronald Brown (1953), Jean LeVander (1964), and Ronald Ford (1974).

The IOA was established in 1874 and is the country’s oldest competitive collegiate speech contest. Each state is allowed to send two competitors to the national contest. Both of Minnesota’s entrants this year were from Gustavus as Emily Meyer ’16 also competed at this year’s tournament and advanced to the semifinal round.

Nordin, a psychological science major, has been an integral part of the College’s highly successful forensics team over the past four years.

“Forensics has been the core of my experience here at Gustavus. It was the way I learned to represent Gustavus’s core values, it shaped the incredible relationships I have with the faculty here, and it made me stand out when applying to graduate school,” Nordin said. “Forensics is the epitome of a liberal arts education, and I could not be more thankful to the administration and my coaches for giving me the opportunity to compete.”

Nordin’s winning speech at the IOA National Contest centered on some of the flaws of the country’s 911 system and how that system could be improved. The speech came to be through a real life experience when Nordin received a concerning snapchat from a friend in her hometown. Nordin was transferred to several different 911 call centers and had to repeatedly answer many of the same questions before an ambulance was correctly dispatched to her friend’s house.

“Most people assume that when you call 911, they will know exactly where you are—they assume it is a totally reliable system that works all the time. The terrifying part is, that isn’t always true,” Nordin said. “So I began to do some research and discovered how fragmented, slow, and ineffective our 911 system can be.”

Nordin plans to continue her studies next fall at the University of Alabama Graduate School in communication studies. Nordin’s winning speech is posted below in its entirety.

911’s Deadly Flaw by Karin Nordin

Gustavus Adolphus College

From left to right: Associate Director of Forensics Cadi Kadlecek, Emily Meyer, Karin Nordin, and Director of Forensics Kristofer Kracht.

When Shannell Anderson’s SUV slid into a pond, she stayed remarkably calm. Until, after dialing 911 and reciting her location six times, her car submerged completely underwater as the operator warned- they couldn’t help her. 11 Alive of January 31st, 2015 explains, Shannell’s call connected to the dispatch center one county away. She died at the hands of the system designed to save her, generating a national outcry and uncovering the isolated emergency framework USA Today of February 20th, 2015 calls “911’s deadly flaw.” As we learn in kindergarten, 911 is a nationally uniform phone number, yet RCR wireless of December 23rd, 2014 explains, each center is only responsible for the geographical area around it. As a result, in the case of outages, cross country emergencies, incorrectly routed cell signals, or any issue requiring call centers to communicate, our lifeline becomes a dead end. Fire, police, and medical services exist at the mercy of the dispatch system, so when 911 fails, EMT Angelo Salvucci contended to the Santa Barbara Independent of November 26th, 2014, “everything else we do is worthless.” Considering, copyright 2015, estimates each of us will call 911 at least twice in our lifetime, it is crucial we tie our call centers together to create a national emergency network safety net that will finally catch all victims of tragedy. We’ll examine the causes of our failing net, the effects of the fall through, and finally solutions, because as FCC Chief of Public Safety David Simpson told aforementioned 11 Alive, the failure of our 911 system “is not a theoretical future crisis.. it’s a crisis now.”

When Shannell dialed 911, her phone signal connected to the cell tower in Cherokee county, despite her physical location in Fulton county. Carl Hall, George Chief of Public safety explained to 11 Alive, it’s the physical address of the cell tower.. not the telephone.. which determines which 9-1-1 center that call goes to.” Dispatchers only realized Shanell’s actual location when they stopped using 911’s system and tried Google maps. 911’s technological travesty is caused by it’s antiquated framework and budget black holes.

First, 911’s framework is antiquated. Created in 1970, our emergency system was designed for the stagnant location of landlines. 911 organizer Laurie Flaherty asserts to the Washington Post of December 2nd, 2014 “when we transitioned to cell phones, we just duct taped the infrastructure.” If we had an emergency situation today, whether it be a school shooting or a medical crisis, we would all dial 911 from our cell phones- devices Find Me 911 Coalition of April 29th, 2014 reports, will connect to the correct dispatch center less than half the time, leaving our safety up to the flip of a coin. Transfers are possible but occur through circuit switching, the same technology dial-up internet used. Dispatchers are forced to manually search for the appropriate center’s extension, and even if they guess correctly, the next dispatcher receives no information about the emergency. This inaccurate, inefficient method is the technological equivalent of running ios7 on a flip phone and leaves 911 unable to assist the very victims it was meant to save. One of those victims was Jordan Soto, a 24-year-old found unconscious. The aforementioned Santa Barbara Independent explains, the 911 call connected to a center 30 miles away, causing the delay in response which took Jordan’s life. Such a devastating incident should be an outlier, yet anonymous Pennsylvania dispatcher told aforementioned Fine Me 911, “I could easily tell one or more [of those] stories, per shift.”

Second, text to 911 programs hijack funds. Plans for a national network exist – In 2011, congress authorized Next Generation 911, a program creating a connected, national network. Yet instead of fixing 911s crumbling foundation, call centers are choosing to cover the cracks with paint. The FCC mandated on September 15th, 2014, all call centers must adopt text-to-911 programs, or the ability to send a text message rather than dial 911. Although seemingly beneficial, FCCs own Commissioner Aijit Pai published a report in October, calling text-to-911 “a patchwork approach exposing the public to numerous pitfalls.” As the Federal Register of September 16th, 2014 explains, text to 911 implementation will cost upwards of 20 million dollars. Moreover, as CBS News of August 11th, 2014 elaborates, “texting programs will not function until a national network is implemented.” Put simply, we are approaching improvement backward, while dollar by dollar disappears down what aforementioned Commissioner Pai calls “a funding rabbit hole.”

Aforementioned 11 Alive explains, before Shanell’s death, the FCC foretold the tragedy in a formal report, warning “even a few minutes of 911 delay can cost lives.” 12 days later, when their theoretical nightmare became Shanell’s terrifying reality, the organization had no comment. 911’s ability to predict the future but not prevent it leaves us all with no backup and cross-country disconnection.

First, we are left helpless in the case of a 911 blackouts. The Huffington Post of April 14th, 2014 tells the story of Alicia Cappola, a single mother forced to fight an intruder with a kitchen knife after her 37 911 calls went completely unanswered. Cappola’s crisis struck during a six-hour, multi-state 911 outage, the largest in American History. If our system was nationally connected, one of the other 6000 dispatch centers across the nation could have taken the calls, dispatched emergency services, and saved lives. Instead, 770 emergencies were unheard, and 11 million citizens were at risk. Nationally, the Washington Post of April 14th, 2014 reports the outage was one of the 4 multi-state blackouts which occurred in 2014 alone. Such rampant malfunction polluting our dispatch centers prompts Daily News Reporter Juan Gonzalez to question – are we really safe? Perhaps ask Ariel Russo – a 4-year-old hit by a car. Ariel’s mother dialed the lifeline meant to save her daughter’s life, and no one answered. Her story could be our story, and if we continue to ignore our unraveling safety net, the result of our emergencies will be as lifeless as the response to our calls.

Second, 911 cannot respond to cross-country emergencies. The National Defense Magazine of September 2013 reports 70% of people in emergency situations use social media to communicate, with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, copyright 2015, listing online confessions as a major indicator of suicide attempts. Through social media, we are connected more than ever to emergencies across the country, but when dialing 911, locally based centers cannot respond to those emergencies. Anonymous Texas dispatcher told aforementioned Find Me 911, “We have issues EVERY DAY with calls regarding areas we do not dispatch for.” I was one of them. Last year, I received a snapchat from a friend living 2 hours away, which depicted his suicide attempt. I called 911 immediately but endured 20 minutes of transfers before speaking to anyone who could help. At that moment, 911 failed at exactly what it was designed to do. As a California dispatcher warns “we are trained “dispatchers save seconds, seconds save lives” and now we need to add to that phrase… “sometimes.”


“911, what is the address of your emergency?”

“I’m in a car in a lake,”


“The Fairway off of Batesville”

“Okay, is that the address where the lake is?”

“Yes Ma’am”

“Give me the address again, make sure I have it right.”

“The Fairway”

“Fairway, I don’t have that, is that in Milton? What city is that in?”


“Ma’am, I’m losing air very quickly,”

“Give me the address one more time, it’s not working,”

“The Fairway!”


“Ma’am? .. I lost her”


Shannell’s mother wrote to news stations across the country- hoping that her daughter’s last words can be the catalyst for change. For her sake, and for all of our sake, solutions are imperative on both ends of the line.

First, the FCC must mandate the implementation of next generation 911. Theoretically, every 911 call should connect to the correct dispatch center. However, the FCC’s March 22nd, 2015 mandate sets the goal of 40% location accuracy within two years. Paired with the globalized nature of modern emergencies, a connected emergency network is vital. Under Next Generation 911, Urgent Communications of October 17th, 2014 explains “if center goes down, the traffic could easily be moved to a different state or a different part of the country.”, Our safety net would be sewn together, resulting in updated technology and the seamless transfer of calls. Emergency Management Magazine of September 18th, 2014 estimates the program will create a 17% reduction 911 related deaths. None of us woke up this morning expecting an emergency, but implementing next generation 911 will ensure we can always expect a response.

However, we cannot create safety without the money to do so- and generating those funds starts with the devices constantly in our hands. Text To 911 is dangerously ineffective, with wired of August 4th, 2014 warning, only 1% of centers are prepared to accept text messages. Even in a situation where you cannot speak, the safest option is still to dial 911 and silently stay on the line. Moreover, Text To 911’s power increases parallel to its popularity, as every dollar going towards the program drains funding from a national network. It is our duty, as users, to stop the program’s dangerous ascent. I have created a graphic warning against Text To 911 – all you have to do to get it is text the code on this card to this number, and it will send you the graphic in return. Set it as your phone background to remind you not to use the service and spark conversations with others regarding its danger. I challenge you – send the picture to 10 other people. We could reach ____ people within this round alone. We send hundreds of texts every day; none is more important than this one.

CNN of January 24th, 2015 tells the story of Calise Manning. Even at four years old, Calise knew who to call when her mother began seizing. She dialed 911 and call went through, saving her mother’s life. Our emergency system has extraordinary potential, and through our action, we can tie call centers together to fasten a safety net of support. 911 stories like Calise’s are the ones we should be hearing – stories of safety, trust, and, above all, life.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas


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