Walt Way, a fixture in Johnson County public safety for 42 years, is leaving his post after a distinguished career. The director of Johnson County’s Emergency Management and Communications Department is retiring this month.
Way has led the department since 2005. He took the position after retiring as a colonel from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in 2004 ,where he worked for nearly 32 years. That retirement was short-lived.
“I was off for 44 days and then took this job,” Way said.
While his first retirement may have been brief, his list of contributions to Johnson County has been long. As director of Johnson County’s Emergency Management and Communications Department, Way oversees the operations at the Emergency Communication Center in Olathe. The communications center provides 911 and dispatching services for a dozen fire and EMS agencies in Johnson County as well as the Sheriff’s Communications Unit.
Way is largely credited with making technological improvements to the regional 911 system. He was instrumental in Johnson County’s lobbying to support funding for emergency communications in the county and throughout the state. His efforts paid off in 2004, when the Kansas Legislature approved a bill that imposed a 50-cent fee on monthly cell phone bills to pay for emergency wireless service.
The funding paved the way for 911 centers to purchase equipment that helps them locate wireless 911 callers through triangulation and global positioning systems.
Way has also overseen the consolidation of radio services. During his tenure, the county built a state-of-the art digital radio system that helped move Johnson County from eight public radio systems to one countywide system.
Over the years, Way has taken his leadership to other areas of the county and state. He served as director of the Johnson County Radio System that served more than 40 local county government agencies. He also served as co-chairman of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area Regional Radio System, which administers a regional digital radio system for public safety communication.
In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback appointed Way to chair the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council. Last April, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kansas City Regional 9-1-1 System for his dedication to improving public safety communication.
He said he’s been privileged to work with many different leaders from all over the state to make improvements in public safety communication.
“It’s been a joy to bring people together to accomplish something that is great for the community, provides better service and saves money,” Way said.
Those who have worked with Way over the years praise him for his leadership. Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias began working with Way 15 years ago when Way was still with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department. He credits Way with helping to make the community better.
“Our lives are much safer in terms of handling immediate personal disasters and large-scale disasters because of Walt,” Zaccharias said.
Zaccharias said Way’s contributions would be felt for a long time.
“There are some personal characteristics that make him a good role model for other county employees and they are his trustworthiness, humility and his ability to collaborate with others,” Zacharias said. “Those things combined have made him a stellar employee for us and we will miss him.”
As Way begins his second retirement, he said this time he’s sure it’s going to last. He is looking forward to pursuing hobbies. He’s also excited to spend more time with his 3-year-old grandson.
At 65, Way said he feels like the time is finally right to retire for good.
“The reason most of us get into this business is that we want to help people,” Way said. “And I have been allowed to realize that for 42 years, which makes it very rewarding. I think I’ve made great use of my time.”
Sara Beane: firstname.lastname@example.org