APCO 2023: Opening General Session

The Opening General Session of APCO 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee’s, Music City Center hosted hundreds of attendees who heard about the association’s progress and its work to elevate 9-1-1 professionals along with a lesson on teamwork and perseverance from the Navy Seal who shot Osama Bin Laden.

APCO CEO Derek Poarch began by affirming the vital work APCO members perform for society.

“You matter. You make a difference,” Poarch said. “The job that you have chosen is hard, the situations you manage are intense, and the world itself feels a little tougher to navigate every day. No matter what else is happening in your own lives, you go to work, you put on a headset – and you make this great country safer.”

And Poarch noted that the number of APCO members putting on the headshot and making the country safer continues to rise. In 2023, association membership has reached a record 40,375, Poarch said, more members than any other law enforcement association.

Poarch said APCO continues to advocate change in the federal government’s classification of public safety telecommunicators from administrative to protective occupations through the 9-1-1 SAVES Act and other legislation.

“Your dedication, quick thinking and ability to remain calm under pressure are instrumental in saving lives and ensuring the safety of our communities,” Poarch said. “It is essential that the federal government acknowledges the protective nature of the work you do every day.”

Poarch also touted the PROTECT 9-1-1 Act, meant to help identify, treat and prevent post-traumatic stress disorder among 9-1-1 professionals.

Poarch said the association is seeking $15 billion for NG9-1-1 in bipartisan legislation. “APCO will continue to advocate for the technologies and capabilities ECCs most need to protect the public and responders in the field.”

APCO President Angela Batey took the podium to praise APCO’s 9-1-1 Staffing Crisis Summit that attracted 260 attendees and numerous experts in the field over two days in May. She also noted the expected change to APCO rules allowing educators and students engaged in a course of study in public safety communications and related careers to join as APCO members.

Batey described the process for hiring a new executive director to lead APCO, replacing CEO Derek Poarch who announced he would retire no later than August 9, 2024. She said the APCO Executive Committee and Board of Directors engaged an executive search firm that fielded 215 applications for the job.

“After three rounds of interviews with representatives from the Board of Directors, two members of staff, four past presidents, and finally with the Executive Committee, APCO’s own chief technology officer, Mel Maier, was unanimously selected as the next executive director and CEO,” Batey said.

Maier has worked in public safety for 33 years and was captain and chief of public safety communications for the Oakland County (Michigan) Sheriff’s Office before joining APCO in March 2022 as chief technology officer. More about Maier’s background and hiring can be found here.

Batey said Maier would serve as master of ceremonies during the Food for Thought Luncheon on Wednesday.

“On behalf of the entire Executive Committee and Board of Directors, I would like to thank Derek for his thoughtful and gracious approach to his departure, and more importantly, for his commitment to APCO all these years,” Batey said. “It is a testament to his leadership, and the culture of excellence of our amazing staff, that made it possible for us to select an internal candidate for this critical role.”

Poarch and the Executive Committee introduced the ECC award winners who “represent the best in the field of public safety communications. These members demonstrate skill, integrity, leadership and professionalism.” The awards were:

  • Information Technologist of the Year to Vaughan Nasse, Cobb County Department of Emergency Communications, Marietta, Georgia.
  • Radio Frequency Technologist of the Year to Peter Jimenez, Orange County Sheriff’s Department Technology Division, Orange, California
  • Telecommunicator of the Year to Jaclyn Vernon, New Castle County Department of Public Safety, Emergency Communications Division, New Castle, Delaware
  • Trainer of the Year to Bret Batchelor, North Central Texas Emergency Communications District, Arlington, Texas
  • Line Supervisor of the Year to Heather Robinson, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, Bunnell, Florida
  • Communications Center Director of the year to Kelley Cunningham, Eaton County 911, Charlotte, Michigan
  • Team of the Year to Uvalde Police Department Communications, Uvalde, Texas

Poarch then introduced the Technology Leadership Awards to ECCs that use technology to benefit their agencies and communities. The winners are:

  • For a small to medium ECC, the Village of Melrose Park, Illinois
  • For a large ECC, Jefferson County Communications Center Authority, Jeffcom 9-1-1, Lakewood, Colorado

After awards for elite 9-1-1 professionals, APCO 2023 attendees heard from another kind of elite professional.

Ryan Burchnell, Director of Market Development for FirstNet Built with AT&T, introduced an eight-year member of Seal Team Six and the man who shot Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Robert O’Neill described his career in the Seals and what they learn about working together in teams to achieve shared goals.

Making quick decisions as part of a team depends on refining a plan of action but also the willingness to improvise once the mission begins.

“Training, communication and repetition. Refining our tactics, changing our rules, finding the best way to communicate with each other. What we find about effective communication is the less we talk, the better we communicate,” O’Neill said.

One of the lessons that public safety telecommunicators may be able to relate to is calm decision making in the face of stress. The key, said O’Neill, is to understand that stress is a choice. “We’re looking for people who are smart enough to realize that stress is a choice,” O’Neill said. “At any time, you can put stress down and forget about it because you should.”

Putting aside stress allows quick decision-making and can prevent one small mistake from spiraling into successive, catastrophic ones. What applies to forced entry under hostile conditions, O’Neill said, can be generalized to more mundane situations. “Great advice for life: Whatever it is, get over it.”

By Richard Goldstein