Next week, the Meridian Center will be a hub of activity as it hosts the Kansas chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials' fall conference Oct. 9 to 11.
"It's a 911 conference, so dispatchers and administrators will be there," said Michele Abbott, 911 Director for Hutchinson/Reno Emergency Communications.
Abbott also serves on the Kansas APCO board and is the chair for the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council's Operations Committee, which put her in the perfect position to bring the two organizations together for the first time at the upcoming conference.
"There's a lot of fluid movement in 911 right now, so there's a need to get information out to everybody," Abbott said.
Rapid changes in technology are bringing new tools and resources to emergency communications departments. In the near future, alarm system alerts could be streamed directly to dispatch centers, Abbott noted. Text-to-911 is also on the horizon, giving the public the option to text and send pictures and video to dispatchers, who will be able to see in real time what they are typing.
"The most exciting thing about Text-to-911 is that the deaf and hard of hearing community have never been able to communicate with 911 without using a teletypewriter," Abbott said.
In order to demonstrate the capabilities of new programs, one conference room will be set up as a computer lab, allowing dispatchers and administrators to train as if answering real emergency calls.
"It's everything from how to operate it, to the technical aspects of it," Abbott said.
Harvey County Communications Director Don Gruver said his agency is the local partner for the APCO conference, helping to bring in speakers and offering tours of their center to participants.
"In addition to in-house training and reviews, conferences such as APCO provide the opportunity for dispatchers to hear how other agencies handle calls, lessons learned and network with dispatchers from across the state and other states," Gruver said. "...the opportunity to network and bounce ideas off each
other is one of the best aspects of attending these conferences."
Participants in the conference can earn continuing education hours in the three days packed full of 911 and emergency communications-related workshops.
"Dispatchers are required to obtain 24 hours of training every two years for their Emergency Medical Dispatcher certification. The majority of that training is centered around medical calls," Gruver said.
The conference sessions will cover topics such as updates to technology, mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder and customer service.
"We're just trying to fill it full of information," Abbott said. "This is our highest-attended conference in years."
Abbott estimated close to 200 people will come to the conference in Newton.
"We were looking for a central place," Abbott said. "We have dispatchers from all over the state that will attend."
The APCO conference organizers decided to dedicate one space for a team-building exercise, turning it into a room from which attendees must escape.
"Teams can go in and learn how to work together to come to a solution," Abbott said.
Along with learning and networking, a banquet will be held and dispatching awards will be given out.
"It takes a lot of dedicated people behind the curtains that nobody sees," Abbott said. "...A lot of people see fire/EMS but they forget there are people behind the console taking those calls."