APCO: Not guilt by this association
As introduced in an earlier column, Steve Davidson is the 9-1-1 center manager for the Lenexa, KS, Police Department. Steve isn’t widely known by his first name, but readily answers to his moniker “Grumpy.” Yes, that’s right, the name fits the perceived behavior. But more importantly, Steve has a great coffee cup. Actually, it’s just a regular coffee cup with a great saying inscribed on the side: “Everyone is Entitled to My Opinion.” It seems like such a waste for “Grump” to proffer this opinion via a java jug when an opinionated curmudgeon, such as myself, could put it to real use.
Because August is the month for the APCO-International Conference and Exposition (and meeting, assembly, gathering, liars’ contest, hoedown, and general bull session) in Boston, I’d like to offer my opinions about that esteemed outfit which, for years, has acted to shepherd along the interests of public safety communications.
In 1975, our local chapter asked a local fire chief to speak at one of the Kansas state APCO meetings. His one-hour presentation dealt with safety issues and hazards recently encountered in fighting petroleum fires. Apparently he thought our group was the “APCO” gasoline station franchise owners’ meeting. It was only after he concluded his detailed, thoughtful and reflective speech that this gentleman mainstay of local public safety life was introduced to the “other” APCO. Likewise, while our state chapter has always had solid membership and good attendance at its two semi-annual meetings, we have regularly encountered the belief amongst Kansas sheriffs and local chiefs of police that APCO stands for Alcohol Program for Communications Officers (Well, at least in Kansas, that was the popular belief).
Unknown by most people, APCO has played a significant role in the evolution and deployment of communications systems in the public safety marketplace for system administrators and Radiomen alike. After all, this outfit originated in an era when “dispatchers” (now called communications specialists, telecommunicators or even system status controllers) were necessarily technical types because these were the only people who had the knowledge and skill to actually operate the radio equipment. (Note: Does the introduction of CB radios indicate technical evolution, or devolution?) Partly because of its members’ technical expertise, APCO acted as the official “designated entity” to represent law enforcement and local government in matters before the FCC, and until fairly recently, APCO focused its annual conferences on technical subject matter aimed squarely at Radioman.
But, like the technology it helps develop, APCO has undergone major organizational changes in recent years. Adoption of suffrage for operator members (see: dispatchers, above) was nearly heretical, but long overdue. After all, operator members and center managers were suddenly charged with integrating a variety of information-and-data systems and the radio system into a modern communications center. (In some places, the “radio room” is now the dark closet that is the sole province of Radioman). Even though I’m constantly skeptical, APCO has been successful in holding membership attention and focus on ever-evolving topical issues. Wisely (and in response to demand by now-voting operator members), APCO has focuses extensively on non-radio technical topics and administrative subjects.
Now, for a more specific and practical example of what’s “good” about the APCO organization: my friend Floyd Duell. Now retired, Floyd built and ran the radio system for the state of Kansas. He didn’t actually build it all, but his fingerprints are on a good share of the pieces. Fondly referred to as “the little round man from the DOT,” Floyd provided solid advice and plenty of assistance and encouragement to anyone needing help starting a public safety radio system in Kansas. Because Floyd volunteered as the Kansas frequency coordinator beginning in the early 1970s, he was called on by numerous local entities. From the carefree days of one-way commercial broadcast (no pesky station receivers to keep aligned), through the development of a migration plan to modern 800MHz trunking, Floyd was an APCO institutional resource. When considering an organization (typically as a faceless, faraway and nebulous collection of fancy suits), we seldom think of an individual. But Floyd constantly proff ered the benefits of t
The moral of this short primer is that in our jobs as communications center managers and system administrators-affiliating with a representative trade organization-can be more than just joining a club. In the case of APCO, we can have both organized national representation and practical, local support.
Oh, the letters really stand for Association of Public safety Communications Officials.