My GECC Experience and What I Learned

Samantha Hawkins

Samantha Hawkins

Guest Writer

Last month was the Georgia Emergency Communications Conference (GECC), hosted in Athens, Georgia (USA), and let me tell you something ... so much learning took place over those four days! For me personally, the conference marked my first time ever attending GECC. It was also my first time presenting in person at any dispatchers’ conference. I arrived along with the rest of my colleagues from the Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications with a great deal of excitement and anticipation that this event would meet some of our loftiest expectations, and surely, it did.

Day 1 began with a very emotional and tear-filled morning as the keynote speaker, Hank Hunt, recounted the regrettably tragic story of his daughter Kari Hunt. He recalled the simple, but compelling, promise that he had made to his granddaughter that "Papa will fix it" so that no child has to deal with the horror and confusion of dialing 911 and not getting help on the other end of the line ever again. It was a story that I was faintly familiar with, but, truly, no one could have done it justice better than Hunt himself. And when he closed the session out with George Strait's "Living For The Night," I felt every aching, yearning line down in my soul.

After Hunt, Brian LaMonica and Jonathan Goldman spoke on the personal impact when a 911 call affects someone you know and love. LaMonica's perspective was so authentic and revealing as he discussed maneuvering the media after his wife was badly injured in an accident involving a military Humvee and trying to make sense of such a fatefully difficult event. Goldman then offered some heartfelt nuggets of wisdom on what a leader should do to ensure that an employee in this position feels cared for and supported at their lowest moments.

Still, one of the most poignant sessions of the day belonged to Clay Patterson, Director of Carroll County 9-1-1. His story was one that hit deeply close to home as someone in this profession who has worked during a few officer-involved shootings. The story of a vehicle pursuit that resulted in three law enforcement officers being shot by the fleeing suspects definitely earned its hushed lull from the audience of telecommunicators, as we respectively wondered to ourselves how we would have dealt with this dramatic chain of events: The pandemonium, the heaviness, the panicked cries of our officers, the uncertainty if they'd even survive. It certainly took a lot of courage on his part to even relive the struggles he faced as a leader during that day and how he made the tough decision to stay with the staff of dispatchers at his center, rather than don his old sheriff's vest and head out to join the deputies in the field.

I had the pleasure of opening up Day 2 with my session, "Help! I'm The Difficult Employee," along with my co-presenter (and my center’s director) Melissa Alterio. Together, we provided two heartfelt perspectives on what people-driven leadership looks like. I spoke from the viewpoint of a "good employee" who had—once upon a time—become bogged down by complaints of tardiness and was on the brink of termination. I spoke about what I needed from my supervisors at that time and how I nearly was left behind by the very administration that was supposed to support and empower me. Melissa offered further insight to the supervisors, managers, and directors in the room by teaching on how empathy, kindness, and "giving your employee the benefit of the doubt" can go a long way in building trust with them and helping them to improve problem behaviors.

Andrea King with Carbyne gave a valuable lesson on being a change champion! In her presentation, she inspired and challenged us attendees to be daring enough (and caring enough) to manifest the change in our agency that we want to see. She issued a call to think higher, be brighter, and drive the necessary change in ourselves as well as those around us in order for our center to rise to that next level of growth. Then there was the session, "Cultivating Confidence In Call Taking," delivered by my co-worker, Leighann Schultz. She gave great techniques on how to stay positive and motivated and confident in one's own abilities despite the challenges and uncertainties of the calls we often handle. Her words and PowerPoint slides were encouraging to new telecommunicators who are just entering the world of calltaking and struggling with believing in themselves. Leighann reminded us all that we are not perfect, and while it is okay to strive for excellence, we can also be happy about our small victories and take joy in learning something new every single day.

Day 3 brought Maureen Deickmann's fun, fierce, and energetic discussion on elevating yourself to greatness and achieving the results you want in your personal life and career in order to be at your most fulfilled. Then we had Doug Showalter's condensed crash course on "Dispatching During Civil Unrest," where he spoke of his own experiences working in public safety through controversial, high-profile events like the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the OJ Simpson murder trial.

Of course, the true highlight of the day was the GECC Awards Banquet. It was a very emotional and humbling experience to hear others share their nomination letters recognizing some of our heroes beneath the headset from all over the state of Georgia. I felt my cheeks flush with pride just watching these individuals collect their awards one by one for their selfless service to their PSAPs, their communities, and the Gold Line family as a whole.

Then I was called to the podium and given the floor to read portions of my nomination letter for my director, Melissa Alterio, and I watched her receive her "Communications Director of the Year" award in front of her peers, many of her closest colleagues, and several heads of the public safety departments in our county.

Day 4 was the cherry on top of it all. The final day of the conference meant the last day of networking, fellowshipping, trading cell phone numbers and work emails, and just having a blast getting to know these people just like me, but with different city names or county emblems on their chest. Of course, I would have to wait until the last day to hear one of my favorite speakers in the business, who I also call a friend ... Halcyon Frank.

This was only the second time she had given this session and, oh boy, did she rock it! "Feedback is Your Friend" tackled one of the biggest challenges that plague our 911 centers: THE LACK OF CLEAR COMMUNICATION! When she delved into how much tone and delivery matter to the effectiveness of the message being communicated, I mouthed a silent "Amen!" to myself. When she delved into tips for how we can give better feedback and mentioned emphasizing facts over feelings, I wanted to shout out my agreement. Giving feedback is a major responsibility of any leader or trainer or supervisor, and there really is a right way to do it if you truly want to reach the person you are trying to impact.

Overall, my final verdict on the Georgia Emergency Communications Conference was that it was an incredible time. The Georgia APCO and NENA chapters did an excellent job of joining forces for a great cause, and I look forward to attending again in the future. If you have never attended the GECC before in your life, please think about it attending it, maybe even next year in Columbus, Georgia (USA)!