When public safety talks, Capitol Hill now listens
Last week during the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials’ conference in Philadelphia, Bill Carrow, APCO’s outgoing president, spoke with Urgent Communications about the effort to get the D Block spectrum reallocated to public safety, as well as couple of other noteworthy initiatives.
Public safety is on the cusp of getting the 700 MHz D Block — what stands out regarding the lobbying effort?
This has been a great political-science lesson for me. When you first walk into a senator’s office, you think you’re going to meet with the senator, but instead you meet with a younger staffer who hasn’t even taken the time to Google reallocation, the D Block or 700 MHz — and you get 15 minutes to sway them to get them to back and talk to their boss about why they should support this. That was interesting.
It also must have been dismaying.
It was a little bit, but then I got it — that’s how the game is played here in Washington, D.C. And some of those staffers became some of our best advocates.
How did that happen?
After the first legislation was introduced, people on Capitol Hill started to talk about the reallocation possibility — and about not upsetting public safety. Then you come back to the same room and you’re not only meeting with the chief of staff, you’re meeting with the senator or congressman who has his sleeves rolled up and wants to know the real, behind-the-scenes story of what we’re doing.
It helped then that no one wants to be viewed as being against public safety?
Right, but we certainly tried not to convey the notion that we would encircle Capitol Hill with emergency vehicles — although it has been done in the past. We’re not rabble-rousers. We were just there to fight for what public safety needs to get the job done.
How important was it for the public-safety sector to speak with one voice on this issue?
That was critical to changing some people’s minds. It has been very gratifying to go from no support to people asking us what they can do to help us move this ball down the field, all within six to eight months. They’re now telling us that they get it and they’re willing to talk to their colleagues.
What else helped the lobbying effort?
Where it really started to jell was when we got support from outside public safety. To my knowledge, this is the first time that we have a unified voice with so much support for one issue. That is when the snowball really started to roll down the hill.
How vital was it that Sen. Jay Rockefeller took up the cause?
I couldn’t leave him out — that very much was a key. He is a long-tenured, respected legislator, who not only gets it, but he’s not afraid to talk about it. Basically, he put his reputation on the line on behalf of public safety.
The effort to get the D Block has been very consuming, but what other noteworthy achievements occurred during your presidency?
Last year, our ProCHRT public-safety communications human-resources task force issued its interim report card and the nation got a failing grade, largely because there is no training requirement in the overwhelming majority of states for these people who are handling life-and-death calls every day. Yet, the person doing nails down the street, the electrician or plumber who works on your house, or even the barber who cuts your hair is required to have more certification most places than a 911 telecommunicator.
What’s being done about that?
Some states have come on board with training standards — Florida came on board last year and Arkansas and West Virginia this year. Montana is trying to push that ball as well, not only for training but also for retirement parity. We keep preaching that if wasn’t for our folks, not one piece of equipment — police, fire or EMS — is going to roll out anywhere. The problem is that you never see these people and you never hear about them, except maybe once a year during National Telecommunications Week.
So the 911 sector needs a more extensive public-relations campaign?
I think it’s great that we do National Telecommunications Week, but I keep telling chapters that it shouldn’t stop with that. Our people do great stuff every day, and you need to try to promote it — and you need to make friends with the press, because the public eats this stuff up. I get Google alerts related to 911 every day, and more times than not it is bad news. Either a police car got sent five miles in the wrong direction or a fire truck was dispatched 10 minutes late, or someone fell asleep during a 911 call. But during that one week, everyone is pumping out the press releases with the good news. They need to be pumped out every day. Don’t save them up — we need to be tooting our own horn.
What else was noteworthy about the last year?
We created the APCO/CALEA committee this year, in large part to roll out an online accreditation manager training course, which since January has trained about 50 accreditation managers across the country who didn’t have to leave their desks. That’s important because, in these lean budget times, to try to go somewhere to get this training is prohibitive for a lot of people. There is such demand that our classes are filling the minute we advertise them.
Next: An interview with incoming APCO President Greg Riddle.