Celebrating the Future

Audrey Frazier

U.S. NAVIGATOR was all about the celebration and a renewed optimism for accelerating a pulse on the emergency service’s future. With more than 1,200 attendees and exhibitors lining the cavernous exhibit hall, and 155 sessions in 12 tracks—many boasting full capacity— NAVIGATOR 2021 proved there is a morning after the storm.* Emergency dispatchers didn’t let the ship sink during a year that had all of us waiting for the COVID storm to pass.

“Because of you, we do have a future,” said Jerry Overton, President, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED™). “Despite the terrible strain, all of you stepped up. You held us together. Celebrate yourselves. That’s what NAVIGATOR is about.”

Overton paused his audience 15 seconds during the opening session to honor those who died from the pandemic. Overton was giving more than a pep rally or allowing for a moment of reflection. NAVIGATOR was a celebration of the profession and the individual. COVID did not take emergency communications down. Emergency dispatchers survived. They thrived.

Held at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA), the temperatures outside sizzled while indoors, keynote speakers, exhibitors, presenters, and sponsors did their darndest to give attendees—and those from eight countries in the virtual audience— the refreshing conference they have grown to expect.

From the looks of it, they succeeded in a diversity of directions.

Dispatcher of the Year Erin E. Eaton, EMD, Northwest Central Dispatch System, Arlington Heights, Illinois (USA), said she was celebrating the events that COVID preempted in 2020. Like what happened to most, if not all, conferences, the pandemic derailed NAVIGATOR and, for safety reasons, postponed this year’s gathering to later in the year.

“I’m so happy to be around my dispatch family again,” Eaton said. “I’ve been in the profession 17 years and like the rest of you, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

According to the nomination, Eaton “embodies IAED’s mission to match citizens safely, quickly, and effectively with the most appropriate resource. She gives her all 100% of the time while upholding the highest standards of care.” During the past year—and submitted as part of the nomination packet—Eaton answered a call from a husband who found his wife had hung herself in the garage. Her voice never wavered while she provided instructions.

Emergency dispatchers will tell you that suicide calls are one of the most delicate types of calls they handle. The call might come from a person contemplating suicide, a third-party trying to prevent someone from doing so, or someone reporting a suicide no one was able to stop.

Though hardly a topic to celebrate, James Marshall, Director, 911 Training Institute and licensed mental health professional, discussed his long-time dedication to delivering Emergency Mental Health Dispatching (EMHD) and LifeBridges training. LifeBridges equips emergency communicators with a comprehensive understanding and ability to relate compassionately and effectively to any caller struggling with mental crises.

“EMHD will empower the emergency dispatcher with the tools they need to protect the well-being of the caller and dispatcher,” he said. “It’s a holistic approach. The recognition of this much-needed mental health crisis call management system gives me a sense of relief and encouragement.”

Stefanie Sobusiak, DuPage Public Safety Communications (DU-COMM), Wheaton, Illinois (USA), was celebrating her first NAVIGATOR. Over the last 19 years in emergency dispatch Sobusiak has handled police, fire, and medical dispatch, with advanced training in emergency medical and fire
dispatch, CPR, LEADS, sexual assault, and suicide prevention. She has received two awards for successfully coaching callers through CPR.

The award earned Sobusiak two plaques on DU-COMM’s Wall of Life Honoree displayed at a four corners hub inside the Wheaton public safety building. Sobusiak provided CPR instructions for a 76-year-old female in cardiac arrest and a baby that had stopped breathing.

“The wall reminds us of why we do this,” Sobusiak said. “We save lives.”

Eric Fayad, recipient of the 2021 IAED Instructor of the Year Award, spent 2020 teaching the art of saving lives through protocol to emergency dispatchers new to the profession. Although not celebrating a return to the classroom—he taught live and remote classes during 2020—the pandemic highlighted the Academy’s ability to “pivot on the dime,” he said.

“No one at the Academy is afraid to think outside the box,” Fayad said. “We were ready for COVID. Instruction never stopped. We pivoted.”

Early into the pandemic, Bonni Stockman, IAED Associate Director of Instructor Services, Priority Dispatch Corp.™ (PDC™) Program Administrator Ken Hotaling, and PDC Client Success Manager Jose Rodriguez launched an IAED/PDC Remote Course Resource Group that allows them to train instructors in the delivery of all courses under the certification and recertification umbrella and, also, present a virtual classroom experience for their students. Since March 2020, the Academy has held 812 remote certification courses and trained 84 instructors and 40 facilitators to use the remote teaching platform.

Speaking of classrooms, high school students enrolled at the Veterans Tribute Career & Technical Academy (Veterans Tribute CTA), Clark County School District, Nevada (USA), took a break in their summer vacation to meet and greet NAVIGATOR attendees. They stood outside sessions checking in attendees and honing perspectives on their future careers.

“Everyone we meet here is amazing,” said Stephanie HernandezAcuna, a senior-year student in the Veterans Tribute CTA’s emergency communications program. “I’ve talked to a lot of people about what they do. It allows me to expand on what I have learned in class.

The Veterans Tribute CTA’s focus is to prepare students for careers in public service. Opened in August 2009, the school provides instruction and handson experience in law enforcement, emergency medical response, forensic science, 911 dispatch communications, criminal justice, and cyber forensics.

The two-year 911 dispatch communications course—in which students qualify after their sophomore year—provides the skills and experience to walk into a communication center, said Lily Petersen, a Veterans Tribute CTA instructor and supervisor and training specialist at Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, Nevada (USA). The 29 dispatch consoles in the school’s lab simulates calls processed by students using ProQA®. Students can certify in ETC, EMD, EPD, and EFD.

Petersen said the students represent the next generation of public safety telecommunicators.

“They are being trained to do the right thing to keep responders and the community safer,” she said. “Veterans Tribute CTA prepares them for a bright future ahead, and they’re excited about that.” NAVIGATOR would not be complete without:

• applauding representatives from newly Accredited Centers of Excellence (ACE) walking across stage (ACE grew by 8% in 2020 and 13 centers are Tri-ACE)

• acknowledging the 2019 Communication Center Manager course graduates, represented by Nicole Janey, Chelsea Office of Emergency Management, Chelsea, Massachusetts (USA)

• introducing the Jeff Clawson Leadership Award recipient Jason Barbour, Lead Project Coordinator at Priority Dispatch Corp. and retired Director of Johnston County 911, Smithfield, North Carolina (USA)

• announcing the research poster awardee Dr. Andrea Furgani, an EMS physician and responder at Genoa Emergency Medical Services, University Hospital of San Martino (Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria “San Martino” U.O.C. “118 Genova Soccorso”)

• extending an invitation to attend U.S. NAVIGATOR 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee (USA)

On a final note, Closing Luncheon speaker Marlee Matlin, an Academy Award-winning actress and activist for people with disabilities, gave voice to a platform of equalizing access for all, which centered on access to 911 during an emergency for the NAVIGATOR crowd.

“Many parts of the country provide no 911 access to the Deaf,” said Matlin, who is Deaf and gave her presentation in sign language through an interpreter. “That has to change. In the end, it’s about making sure people are not excluded when the emergency happens. Everyone must be able to live equally without barriers or fear.”

*My thanks to Maureen McGovern’s “The Morning After,” a song from “The Poseidon Adventure.”

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