Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Story Vault

By Audrey Fraizer

A couple of passersby thought the gathering at the corner of First South and Regent Street in the bright pre-noon hour of May 3 was either the quietest accident on record or the best-staged building fire drill ever.

The sight of a normally busy street blocked by a police cruiser, an ambulance, and a Salt Lake City Fire Department ladder truck did draw some public attention. The occasion wasn’t to quell an emergency or to practice a group exit in case of one but to celebrate a new headquarters and a new name for the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

Officially welcoming the future at the brand new address—110 South Regent Street—coincided with the official name change to the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch. The event was both a pause to briefly acknowledge the remarkable success of the Academy and Priority Dispatch Corp. during the past three decades and a rededication of effort during the next three.

A ribbon cutting and daylong open house officially marked the move into a nine-story building in the heart of the city’s wholly remodeled downtown retail/residential district. The 16-year-old facility, whose most notable physical feature is the large spiral staircase that comprises the structure’s main exterior corner, was occupied until fall 2010 by one of two daily newspapers in town and is located less than two blocks from the original Academy headquarters.

In brief remarks prior to the ribbon cutting, Jerry Overton, chair, Emergency Clinical Advice System and Standards, called the day “a momentous occasion.” Not only is it a meridian moment for the Academy itself, Overton said, it is an important milestone for police, fire, and medical personnel whose agencies were among the first to adopt the Priority Dispatch System (PDS) protocols.

The day is also noteworthy in the history and course of emergency management and the dispatching profession everywhere because of the wide and growing influence of the scripted calltaking in three-digit emergency call networks in 43 countries that was developed in Salt Lake City more than three decades ago, Overton said.

The name change is basically being dictated by an unprecedented interest in the Academy and PDS in all parts of the world, Overton said. If the past three years are a predictor, sometime in 2014, more than 3,600 emergency telecommunications providers worldwide will be IAED/PDC-sanctioned operations. If the countries and regions around the world now considering whether to implement the protocols for police, fire, and/or medical emergency services actually do so, sometime in 2015 nearly a billion people will be linked to IAED-trained and certified emergency communication centers. “Today, every second of every day, emergency telecommunicators in 43 countries in 19 languages are being helped by dispatching protocols that get field responders quickly and reliably to the scene and give callers help over the phone until they arrive.”

He noted that success has come both in spite of and often because of formidable challenges presented by tradition and built-in resistance to change within centers, which all have their own unique way of dispatching that has been tailored to match their particular public safety needs.

Prior to cutting the ribbon, IAED Co-founder Dr. Jeff Clawson, called the occasion “a great day, and I don’t just mean the weather.” The past three decades have provided every possible up, down, and sideways route leading to here and now, he said, noting that scripted calltaking was “very controversial,” particularly early on. “We had setbacks but we weren’t daunted. The foundation of the protocols and the foundation of this new address is a desire to improving public safety services.” That was and remains the main goal of starting the Academy, “and my hope is that what we do will continue to evolve forever.”

The occasion is well worth celebrating, William Harry, executive director of Valley Emergency Communications Center, the largest public safety answering point in Utah, told The Journal. “One of the best things about our operation is the partnership we’ve built in the evolution of the protocols.” The idea can still be novel and controversial, Harry said, because adopting the protocols means breaking some long-held habits that might not be the best way to do things but it’s the way an agency knows and understands. To this day, whenever an agency rolls out a change in communications, there is going to be resistance. “But what’s best about Dr. Clawson and his folks is their abiding willingness to take criticism. We’re staunch users because of their unflagging enthusiasm and stick-to-it-iveness to work out the rough spots and make it work for us.”

The ribbon cutting was the capstone on a busy month for the IAED. The U.S. NAVIGATOR was held in the hometown of the IAED in April.