Jaci Fox is walking fast, pulling carry-on luggage through a packed hall, undoubtedly focused on plotting a clear route to Annapolis 1 & 2 when a face in the crowd grabs her attention. She stops and gives the thumbs-up in a broad smile sort of way.
“This is vitamin N,” she says before resuming her pace and guiding her suitcase closer to the room where she and John Lofgren are co-presenting “Starting from Scratch: Setting up Your QA/QI Program.” “I look forward to NAVIGATOR all year long.”
Fox is from the quality assurance (QA) team representing Medicine Hat 911 Regional Communications Center, and she hasn’t missed a NAVIGATOR since the center in Alberta, Canada, was the first in the world to achieve a tri-ACE in 2008. She is the Academy’s Police Board of Curriculum Chair, an EPD and EPD-Q instructor, and a well-respected presenter at the conference dedicated to emergency dispatch. In the past nine years, she has stood at the front of the class more than 20 times.
And her co-presenter was every bit as well-known.
Lofgren, Training Manager, El Paso-Teller County 911 Authority, Colorado Springs, Colo., was the second recipient of the Academy’s Instructor of the Year Award, presented by IAED Board of Certification Chair Pam Stewart at the Opening Session held the day before.
“I didn’t expect this,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed. This is amazing.”
Vitamin N is Fox’s annual professional motivational promoter at a conference attracting more than 1,000 of her closest friends and allies each year during April to learn, exchange ideas, network, and rejuvenate. The same goes for Priority Dispatch Corp. (PDC) Australasian Regional Representative Peter Hamilton, another conference stalwart with easily a dozen or more NAVIGATOR conferences under his belt.
“This is an energy booster,” Hamilton said, despite the jet lag inevitable from 37 hours in flight time to reach Washington, D.C., from his home in Australia. “Always great to be here.”
NAVIGATOR 2016 worked its energizing magic in the nation’s capital, drawing 1,500 emergency dispatch professionals to 115 sessions in 13 tracks, featuring 148 speakers, and to two days of reviewing the trends and genius of dispatch provided by 44 exhibitors; awards recognizing leadership and dedication to the emergency dispatch profession; daily trips to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, Va.; keynote talks; and exhibitors showcasing the latest technology and trends in the communications industry.
The conference truly hit the bull’s-eye of this year’s theme, “A Time for Greatness,” embodied by the sheer number of new and recertified ACEs represented, sessions packing in more than 100 attendees, and the increasing interest in both “Q” certification and “Q” advice. The Academy’s National Q Director Chris Bradford and members of National Q were as close to rock star status as William Shatner, then host of the popular CBS television program “Rescue 911,” when he was a guest at the conference in 1989.
“We’ve always done EMD, and we’re now getting ready to implement the QA process,” said Jan Goswick, Assistant Director, Alleghan County 911, Mich. “Our Q team is here to make sure we’re doing it right.”
Opening Keynote Speaker Mark McGinnis, Commander, U.S. Navy SEAL, launched NAVIGATOR in his talk highlighting the similarity of his former day-to-day assignments that involved real-life action portrayed in the non-fiction book “Lone Survivor” to the career of emergency dispatch.
“Your world is challenging, rapidly changing, and hostile at times just like mine,” said McGinnis, who led more than 400 SEAL operators through real-world operations with zero mishaps. “You cannot be created overnight. You cannot be created at that first call. You are unique. What you do is vital to my family and my family’s safety.”
McGinnis’ 60-minute booster shot presentation and both the Dispatcher of the Year and Instructor of the Year awards propelled the full-to-capacity opening session crowd to the Exhibit Hall for lunch with the opportunity to browse recent additions at the 911 CARES fundraising booth, get comfortable at an ergonomic dispatch console, talk shop, take the Academy’s research survey, view the research posters, and meet with any of the many nonprofit representatives.
NENA Communications Director Chris Nussman was behind the NENA “Friends of 911” booth explaining the program (at Friendsof911.org) established in 2013 to develop education and training programs and that in 2015 invested a portion of its donations to four continuing dispatch education scholarships to four emergency dispatchers.
“Telecommunicators improve their skills, and it’s a way for the public to say thank you to 911,” Nussman said. “They don’t hear that often enough.”
The hour-break provided the perfect bridge to sessions tracked to center management, leadership, operations, human resources, quality assurance, protocols, CDE and training, stress management, motivation, and the catch-all special interest.
PDC Program Administrators Ken Hotaling and Ross Rutschman kicked off the new “International” track Wednesday with their co-presentation “EMD Around the World in 120 Minutes,” providing a rich cultural travelogue of centers in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, U.K., Spain, Italy, United Arab Emirates, and others among the 46 countries where protocols are now the standard in emergency dispatch operations. Although neither Hotaling nor Rutschman speaks more than requisite words (such as numbers and greetings) in any of the languages into which protocols are translated, they said the nuances of culture pose the greatest test of their international success.
“The numbers for the protocols are the same wherever we go,” Hotaling said. “Our challenge is knowing how to explain the complexity of protocol in a way that works.”
Speaking about the international scene represented at NAVIGATOR, Mark Richards, Quality Improvement Manager, Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA), Melbourne, Australia, took a novel approach in developing his options for NAVIGATOR. He wanted unique.
“I sent several options to Claire (Ulibarri, Conference Coordinator), and she chose the one about the weather (‘Effects of Extreme Weather Conditions on Day-to-Day Operations’),” Richards said. “I agreed. It shows something about Australia that few people might know.”
Of course, no NAVIGATOR would be complete without events drawing hundreds to larger venues on-site. The Opening Gala Reception, Rock the Block NAVIGATOR Party, ACE Reception, NCMEC communication center tours, and Closing Luncheon were always in a winning position in competition against the lure of the Smithsonian, White House, Capitol, Ford’s Theatre, monuments, and panda baby Bei Bei at the National Zoo.
The one notable exception to an otherwise above and beyond exceptional conference was the absence of a face everyone at NAVIGATOR recognizes. Dr. Jeff Clawson was nowhere to be seen at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, and he went on record as a first-time miss since 1988, when no more than one-tenth of the number at the 2016 NAVIGATOR conference met at the Snowbird resort in Utah.
Contrary to what some might believe as reason for his absence, however, was quickly dispelled by Scott Freitag, President, International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED), who delivered his message to an audience keen on Clawson sightings. Dr. Clawson was needed at home.
“Well, my streak of never having missed a main Navigator conference is broken, I am sorry to say, but I want to thank you all for your continuing supporting of the evolution of dispatch education and the cutting-edge learning we’ve all grown to look forward to,” Freitag read from the doctor’s prepared statement. “We have the best program ever assembled to stir the latent juices of dispatch planning, innovation, and improvement, which are the calling cards of the Academy.
“However, I must say that the rumors of my nervous breakdown in getting v13.0 out are ill-founded, as I am now performing family nursing duties at home and working on the Animal Care Priority Dispatch Protocols … I leave you in the hands of the greatest staff on earth … See you in New Orleans!” he continued.
And in the meantime, you can bet that Fox and all the rest will be counting down the days to their next shot of vitamin N.