Highlights From GECC 2023

Samantha Hawkins

Samantha Hawkins

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Going to conferences is always like reuniting with loved ones and best friends you haven’t seen in quite some time. That’s what it felt like attending the 2023 Georgia Emergency Communications Conference (GECC) in Columbus, Georgia (USA), March 6-9. Several of my colleagues and I road-tripped from Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications for these 3 ½ days of learning, growing, and discovering (or rediscovering) our “why” as 911 professionals in this industry.

All of the conference committee members, from Georgia APCO President Jonathan Jones to Georgia NENA President Tamika Kendrick, were welcoming and warm throughout our whole time there, too. If you attended GECC, then I am sure that you had a fantastic time as well. But if you didn’t attend, then I’d like to share some of my most memorable highlights from the conference.

Day one kicked off with one of the most dynamic public speakers on this planet—the one and only Adam Timm, Founder of The Healthy Dispatcher. Timm’s keynote address on celebrating the resilience and amazingness of our “everyday superheroes” in 911 was stirring, and he literally brought the attendees to their feet! As the first session of the conference, he set the tone for the next few days of recharging our emotional and mental batteries and filling our cups. He reiterated the point that we truly are the FIRST, first responders through telling inspiring true stories from PSAPs across the state of Georgia. Attendees were encouraged to interact, ask questions, take inventory of themselves, and find their joy again in the work that they do as the literal voice of public safety.

Hattie Lord, an Operations Supervisor from the Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications, was phenomenal in her presentation of “Ethical and Professional Workplace Communication.” She offered plenty of valuable insights on how to ensure that communications in the comm. center remain clear, kind, and drama-free. Communications Training Officer Theresa Carcioppolo was a ton of fun as she shared her personal story on “beating burnout” and finding her joy again in life. (Shout out to Turbo the Tortoise for making a grand appearance at the end of her session too!)

One of the best parts of the day though was saved for last in Clay Patterson’s session, “Extreme Makeover: 911 Edition.” The former E-911 Director of Carroll County 911 recalled some of the sweeping positive changes he made during his time of leadership at the center, including taking time to recognize employees’ accomplishments, revamping their breakrooms, investing in amenities to make life at work more convenient, and implementing team-building activities. Patterson’s session was a call to action for all managers, directors, and deputy directors to put their people first!

Day two began with a headfirst dive into “Building Better Training,” the signature session by one of the industry’s foremost training professionals, Halcyon Frank. Frank, the Director of Training and Development with the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, expounded on the essential building blocks for producing more effective emergency telecommunicators, starting with a solid training program in every center and improving strategies for giving better feedback.

Next up in my favorite highlights was a moving presentation by Shireka Graham, Director of Communications at Georgia Tech Police Department. Graham’s story of overcoming rejection on her journey to leadership resonated with the audience.  She realized that every “No” or “Not now” was her being “delayed, but not denied.” The session offered renewed motivation to never give up on chasing our dreams because hard work, diligence, and finding the right mentors truly can pay off.

I was honored to be a panelist on the last session of the second day, “Empowering the Wonder Women (and Men) of 911,” alongside 911der Women Founder Sara Weston, Andrea King, Strategic CSM and Customer Engagement Lead with Carbyne, and Leah Missildine, Executive Director of the Alabama 9-1-1 Board. We shared our personal empowerment stories and talked about how we can all find meaning in our work and purpose again by finding (or rediscovering) our “why.” The feeling in the room was just electric! We talked about how the best organizations empower their people to be their very best selves, and the happiest, most contented people are those who find their voice and find their peace in doing what fills their cup.

Day three’s opening session with speaker Nathan Lee, Founder and President of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, was incredibly moving. There was hardly a dry eye in the room as he shared about the tragedy of his late wife’s brutal death and how “911 did not work that day to help save her.” Lee’s work with his foundation in advocating for better training of emergency telecommunicators, striving for improvements in 911 systems, and encouraging 911 professionals to come to work every day with the knowledge of why they do this job continues to be a blessing in this industry.

An energetic session by Whitney Wilson, Deputy Director of Roswell 911, shifted the mood as she spoke on how to ensure your PSAP is mentally, emotionally, and culturally equipped for training Generation Z employees and knowing what they need to help them be productive and to belong in the 911 environment. Another highlight for me was seeing Dru Clarke, Customer Success Manager with Carbyne, take to the stage to talk about what it means to demonstrate a “Spirit of Leadership,” whether you have a formal leadership role or a title or a position. Clarke offered real, practical, and inspirational insights on how to draw from within and discover the natural-born leader you were always meant to be!

In a most fitting end to the day, the Georgia APCO/NENA chapters held their awards banquet where we were honored to join in congratulating and lifting up some of the “leaders” in our PSAPs across the state who are doing amazing things in 911. It was so incredible to be able to see “Evening Shift A” of the Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications be recognized with the “Team of the Year” award for their display of teamwork and excellence on the night of Sept. 8, 2022, when two sheriff deputies died in the line of duty. 

Day four was bittersweet as we packed up and checked out of our respective hotels, ready to take all that we had learned through the week back to our centers. I would be remiss though if I didn’t mention the outstanding morning session by Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications’ Deputy Director of Administration and Education, Robbie McCormick. McCormick gave an insightful and informative presentation on the do’s and don’ts of giving courtroom testimony for 911 professionals, from how to dress, to how to present yourself on the witness stand, to what to expect during questioning by the prosecution or defense. Timm closed out the day with his session on combating chronic stress, vicarious trauma, and getting ahead of job-related burnout.

All in all, GECC 2023 was a phenomenal time! I’m already looking forward to the next spring conference happening in Athens, Georgia. Like seriously … can we just go already?! Thankfully, there are still so many amazing regional and national conferences left to attend this year—like APCO and NENA!

So, if you’ve been thinking about attending a conference, stop thinking and do something about it! This is your push to submit that training request, register for that conference, submit that call for speakers’ proposal, or just go for the networking and fellowshipping. You won’t be disappointed!