A record-setting number of 911 professionals attended the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch annual Navigator Conference.

There was no shortage of emergency dispatchers in Las Vegas last week as hundreds of 911 professionals from police, fire, and EMS agencies all around the world were in “Sin City” for the annual Navigator Conference, sponsored by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED).  Navigator, described to be the “premier educational conference for police, fire, and medical dispatch”, did not disappoint in living up to this description.  I had the honor of attending the conference as a volunteer Subject Matter Expert for the 911 Wellness Foundation.

Sergeant Kevin Briggs (Ret.) from the California Highway Patrol was the opening keynote speaker.  Known as the “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge”, Briggs saved several people from jumping to their deaths during his years working patrol on the bridge in San Francisco, CA.  He now travels the world as the founder of Pivotal Points speaking about suicide prevention, crisis management, and leadership skills.

rsz_11178353_10153228247650520_1318460888059329947_nThe Exhibit Hall was lined with booths from vendors who provided free demonstrations of their products and services, the most interesting of which I found was Xybix – Dispatch Workstations.  Xybix is a nation-wide leader in creating work stations and consoles for public-safety dispatchers in emergency call centers.  They have state-of-the-art consoles that adjust in height from sitting to standing positions.  A trending topic in emergency dispatch is how the industry can make call centers a healthier environment for the personnel that staff them.  Some dispatch centers have reconstructed work stations so their consoles can have treadmills under them, and there is large debate regarding safety and work productivity of personnel who use such equipment while working at their assigned consoles.  Xybix had a demo console set up with a treadmill, and so I had to give it a try.

911WF leaders Jim Marshall and Jim Lanier role-playing a skit in a workshop to demonstrate how therapy can help 911 dispatchers.

911WF leaders Jim Marshall and Jim Lanier role-playing a skit in a workshop to demonstrate how therapy can help 911 dispatchers.

There were several training workshops taught by dispatchers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, clinical psychologists, and other public-safety professionals.  Workshops focused on a wide array of topics: training techniques, dispatching protocol, raising morale, talking with angry/frantic callers, and self-motivation.  Because I was working with the 911 Wellness Foundation, I sat in on our own workshop, which focused on breaking the negative stigma associated with dispatchers seeking professional counseling due to the overwhelming stresses of their job.  Role-players acted out a skit, showing what the interaction might be like between a clinical psychologist in a therapy session with a 911 dispatcher struggling to cope with the stress of the job.  Humor was strategically used to break down walls built up to be defense mechanisms.  And soon, you could hear a pin drop in the room as dispatchers in attendance solemnly realized that their profession has a legitimate need to receive therapy.  It was a touching reminder that dispatchers are just human.

As I manned the 911 Wellness Foundation exhibit booth, I had the opportunity to meet many front-line dispatchers working across the country.  It was heartbreaking to hear some of their stories of struggle in coping with a thankless job that demands so much.  But from those trials and tribulations stood before me the strongest of men and women who continue to put on the headset and answer emergency calls.  Their stories of struggles and healing were inspirational.  And in that moment, I looked around the Exhibit Hall and realized each one of the hundreds of dispatchers in that ballroom has a personal story… a story of success; a story of defeat.  And yet, there is no one I would rather trust in my time of greatest need than a 911 emergency dispatcher.