On March 4-7th, I spent time with 300 dispatchers in the great State of Georgia at the annual Georgia Emergency Communications Conference (GECC), a joint conference between the state’s chapters of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International (APCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
When my plane landed in Atlanta, I learned my connecting flight to Columbus was delayed by 3 hours. That delay turned into 5 hours, and then 7 hours. The airline did a poor job of sharing any information with passengers, so frustration set in immediately. It was not until other passengers started clamoring that I learned the real reason for the delay.
An EF-4 tornado touched down in Lee County, Alabama. The EF scale rates the intensity of a tornado, based on comparison of wind speeds with storm damage. The tornado had estimated wind speeds of approximately 170 mph when it hit land in Alabama. It then headed east and jumped the Chattahoochee River, crossing into Georgia. The tornado left a devastating path nearly a mile wide. It was not until later I would learn that it killed 23 people.
The very next day GECC kicked off its welcoming ceremonies and I was honored to be invited to be the opening keynote speaker. The feeling in the room was somber. I was touched by APCO and NENA leaders who opened the conference and asked for a moment of silence to remember those 23 souls lost, their surviving family and friends, all those who lost their homes and businesses, and all the first-responders working in the aftermath.
For an hour and half, I spoke to a room full of Georgia’s finest sharing things I experienced in my career as a dispatcher in California. Together, we laughed and cried.
Over the course of the next few days during the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting several attendees and spending time with them. There were managers and directors leading their respective agencies; there were newly promoted supervisors; there were dispatchers with 30 years of service and those who just started their careers. It was a real delight spending time with them and making many new friends.
I also attended a few breakout sessions. The conference committee did a superb job of lining up some phenomenal speakers who presented a wide range of different training topics. Mr. Ken Jarrard, serves as the City Attorney for several cities in Georgia and really brought to life the rather dry topic of legal liability and how it applies to dispatchers. Sabrina Caraway from Forsyth County 911 shared insightful information on encouraging dispatchers to create a positive culture and boost morale in the communications center (CLICK HERE to watch an interview with Sabrina). Tracy Eldridge from RapidSOS shared her very powerful story of healing from PTSD. On the last day, leaders from the Georgia Telecommunicator Emergency Response Taskforce (TERT) discussed deployments in 2018, responding to handle Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael.
The highlight of the conference was a session called, “911 as a Career”. The conference committee identified 6 long-time serving 911 professionals who hold leadership positions at their respective agencies. The session was set up as a panel discussion and each leader shared their personal story of starting work in the 911 industry and highlights of their career. These leaders were each a goldmine of knowledge and experience. As I sat in the middle of the crowd watching, I noticed attendees engage the panel in discussion, which began to feel more like a casual conversation between friends in a coffee shop instead of a formal presentation at a conference. And it was brilliant. Attendees were given a warm invitation to connect and start organic mentoring relationships with these leaders.
Although I spent several years wearing a headset in California, I was most grateful to feel the warmest of welcomes by the Georgia 911 Family. I am most encouraged to know dispatchers in Georgia are in good hands in the care of the leaders at the state’s APCO and NENA chapters.
On behalf of the 911 Training Institute, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Georgia APCO and NENA Executive Boards, the leaders who served on the conference committee, and all the volunteers who worked behind the scenes to make this year’s GECC conference a great success and wonderful experience for all.
Ryan Dedmon, M.A.
911 Training Institute