The Kansas chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials opened its fall conference Tuesday morning. The Kansas Highway Patrol Honor Guard presented the American and Kansas flags in front of an audience of around 200 people at the Meridian Center.


Conference participants came from across the state to earn continuing education hours in the three days of 911 and emergency communications-related workshops.


"We've provided some educational stuff, some issues, and also try to keep them up on the next new things that are coming," said Hutchinson Chief of Police Dick Heitschmidt, who also serves as chairman for the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council.


Changes in technology are paving the way for dispatchers to receive more information from a caller quickly and enabling them to pinpoint their location more accurately.


Harvey County is expecting to go live with the NextGen mapping system by the end of October.


"They'll be on the cutting edge of what's going on in the state and, for that matter, what's going on in the country," Heitschmidt said.


APCO is dedicated to providing the resources and training through its biannual conference.


"What is great about APCO is that it is devoted to furthering dispatching," said Sedgwick County Communication Director Elora Forshee, who is the 2017 president of the Kansas chapter of APCO. "It's furthering us through training, legislative issues and support, through standards — anything to support dispatch."


Unlike the early days of dispatching, those working in emergency communications do much more than answer the phone.


"We're the first investigators," Forshee said. "We're providing medical direction on the phone, we're doing CPR, we're delivering babies."


The imminent addition of Text-to-911 and the ability to send multimedia messages to dispatchers will require new strategies for how best to handle those types of communication.


"As it evolves, we need things like APCO to make sure we're supported in what we're doing and how we should do it and how to serve the community in the best way and our first responders in the best way," Forshee said.


Kansas is on the forefront of developing training standards for emergency communications personnel.


"We want to make that if you're in western Kansas...versus if you're in Sedgwick County, that there's the same trained dispatcher, no matter what," Forshee said.