Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer


By Audrey Fraizer

Times sure do change and that’s no more apparent, for our profession, than at the annual Navigator conference being held this year in Baltimore, the “city of neighborhoods.”

In recent years, the former working-class port city has built a strong reputation from a foundation of diversity spread across 72 federally-designated historic districts (or neighborhoods) and a willingness to set a global example in preserving an historic past while moving into the future.

The city, and its charge ahead attitude, makes this the perfect location for a conference that challenges EMDs, EPDs, and EFDs to continue setting the dispatch pace for the international world to follow.

“We are the people others are watching,” said Scott Freitag, National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED). “What we do, how we act, and the leadership we provide should set the standards others want to achieve at their centers.”

Navigator provides just the right mix of information for gaining insight into what’s ahead in the demanding role as an emergency police, fire, and medical dispatcher and how to use these tools to your best advantage. The 2012 “Take the Challenge” conference scheduled from April 17 through April 20 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront, Md., features a record 98 hour-long educational sessions powered to refresh and motivate the more than 1,200 attendees anticipated.

“Navigator lets you engage,” Freitag said. “It almost forces you to. You have the space to listen, to learn, and to move ahead in your chosen career.”

New tracks—Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) and Human Resources—join existing tracks that include topics in leadership, management, protocols, motivation, CDE training, quality assurance, stress, Accredited Centers of Excellence (ACE), and the highly successful special interest sessions held two out of three days of conference.

While sessions highlighting NG9-1-1 might clash with the whole “freedom from interruption” notion, there’s no mistaking the importance of understanding the influence of NG9-1-1 in terms of both technology and personnel. The four consecutive NG9-1-1 sessions on the first full day of Navigator (Wednesday, April 18) cover the nuts and bolts (costs, training, and quality assurance) and the potential health risks to dispatchers from the barrage of real-time video, text messaging, and cell phone calls and misdials.

“The issue of dispatcher stress in relation to NG9-1-1 has to be central,” said Jim Marshall, who with Jim Lanier will present the session Exploring the Risks of NG9-1-1. “How do you put a policy together without recognizing the implication on personnel?”

The workshop, Marshall said, is not an attack on NG9-1-1, no more than the 60-minute session is meant to raise panic among the front-line dispatchers.

“This is about leadership and assuming the leadership role,” he said. “We want to build an informed base that knows what’s in store and what to do about addressing the issues in tandem before they become a problem.”

Marshall and Lanier anticipate an interactive session, with an audience that acts in the style Navigator promotes. Nothing about the conference says total “gripe session,” although it’s often the discontent motivating productive discussion.

One of the best places to begin a mustering of the troops is in your own backyard, at least that’s according to Jennifer Kirkland, training supervisor for Vail Public Safety Communications Center in Eagle County, Colo.

Kirkland plans an hour of give and take: giving her ideas to show how much you appreciate your dispatchers and asking the audience for strategies that have proved successful at the centers.

“Dispatchers do so much and there are so many ways to recognize them,” she said. “Even something as simple as an unexpected thank-you note provides a positive impact on someone’s day.”

The creative part, of course, speaks to budget constraints and learning to do with less. But guess what? Kirkland said leaving your mark of heartfelt appreciation can be as cheap and easy as writing a thank-you note on a napkin to a coworker who brings in snacks to share or writing personal letters recognizing an individual’s contributions to the agency. Kirkland will also be taking the floor to gather ideas from her audience.

“People come to Navigator because they care about their agency and people,” she said. “I’m trying to give them different ways of showing their appreciation.”

Simple morale boosters that improve the workplace can add miles to a dispatcher’s career, influence positive behavior, and, as our well-known U.K. co-presenters Tracey Barron and Louise Ganley might say, get the blighters to comply.

Non-complying staff members generally fall into two camps: those who don’t have the skills to comply and those who choose not to, explained Barron, IAED Research and Studies officer. And both groups’ compliance uses can be tackled in ways that don’t diminish the important contributions the individuals do and can make.

“The session discusses ways of discovering the weakness and then utilizing their talents and working with them in a differentiated way,” Barron said. “The second half of the session looks at attitude problems and how to create an environment that cultivates an effective and meaningful attitude in staff through reducing shame, promoting learning from mistakes, talking about group behavior, and mixing learning cultures.”

Sessions devoted to the Protocols range from their application in specific situations to the importance of call processing times. A panel of experts with clinical, research, technical, certification, and related backgrounds will host the annual and informal Q&A free-for-all.

“We usually have a few topics on hand to generate questions if the audience is initially shy,” said IAED Academics and Standards Associate Brett Patterson. “But this is rarely necessary. We get into great discussions.”

Other sessions will cover continuing dispatch education, improving morale, building an ACE profile, consolidation, and—back to where we started—technology. Ross Rutschman will give his best shots for getting fired via Facebook; Chip Hlavacek will provide the ins and outs of ProQA Paramount; and Don Robinson will describe a start-to-finish course on using simulation to enhance dispatch.

The educational emphasis and the variety of topics are the big draw, said Jaci Fox, a certified quality assurance specialist on the Quality Assurance Team at the Medicine Hat Regional 911 Communications Centre in Alberta, Canada. And just like this year’s theme “Take the Challenge” emphasizes, Navigator reawakens the determination of dispatchers.

“People come back motivated, and eager to be part of the solution,” she said. “Navigator challenges dispatchers to do their job even better than they did before.”

A final note: Don’t forget the “other stuff” Navigator offers. Keynote speakers will open and close the conference, and in between there will the Dispatcher of the Year Award, ACE presentations, introduction of the Communications Center Manager (CCM) course graduates, lots of time to stroll the exhibit hall, and an evening party at the Rock Star Lounge featuring the band Millennium. Dr. Jeff Clawson will present the annual Leadership Award. Networking is always in the spotlight with those attending Navigator on a regular basis intent on introducing those new to the conference.

“We keep building and improving on the past because that’s what people want,” said Conference Coordinator Claire Colborn. “We have created a strong foundation that keeps Navigator in a position to lead the way for others to see.”