Feature Interview with APCO Immediate Past President Gigi Smith

The girl from Utah having a voice for public safety

We recently had an opportunity to catch up with the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) immediate Past President Gigi Smith. Six months after handing the reins to John W. Wright, Flynn Nogueira, Airbus DS Communications Director of Marketing asked Gigi about her time in office, what she sees as the biggest challenges for APCO and public safety communications, and whatís next for her.

Gigi before talking about your term as President, tell us how you became involved in public safety and how long you have been a member of APCO.

The funny thing is I never really planned on a career in public safety. My Dad, however, was the Chief of Police and needed someone to help in the dispatch center, and I caught the bug and have been involved in public safety communications ever since and thatís been about 30 years ago now. I started as a call taker, worked my way through the ranks of dispatcher, trainer, supervisor, and now serve as the Police Operations Manager for the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center in West Valley City, Utah.

I joined APCO in 1992 and held a number of different positions at the local, regional and national level. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to grow with APCO, and watch it grow to become the leading advocate for policies to improve public safety communications.

What have you learned from the experience?

I am appreciative of my time as President and the opportunity I've had to grow as a person. Iíve learned to pay more attention to detail, be more inquisitive, and Iím not afraid to speak for what I think is right even if itís not popular. I realized I am the one who had to put my head on the pillow and have a clear conscience about what I had done, what I had said, not just for myself but for my members and that gets to the core of who you are. If you believe in something - you shouldn't be afraid to fight for it.

What is one event or memory that stands out for you during your term in office?

Itís difficult to identify just one memory that stands out from my time as APCOís President. Certainly testifying before the US Senate on location accuracy for wireless callers is one; being invited to the White House to work with others to enhance public safety was definitely an honor; and I loved the opportunity to meet other members of APCO, people that are on the front lines of mission critical communications.

I never thought something like this would happen to me Ė this girl from Utah having a voice for public safety.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Public Safety today?

The biggest challenge we face today is keeping up with changing technology. The pace at which new technology is being introduced into public safety communications, in the PSAP, the communications networks, in the field, is straining budgets, operation policies, training, and the people themselves. In public safety, we canít just flip a switch and deploy new technology. It takes planning, preparation, and testing to ensure that the technology enhances not hinders communications.

What are you most proud of?

The fact that I was able to represent the members of APCO. This is the environment I come from, I grew up in. I am in awe of what telecommunicators do every day handling call after call and saving lives and making a difference in all our lives for our communities.

Whatís next for you?

Iím happy with my role at Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center and what I am doing now. I am fortunate to have my husband and 2 beautiful teenagers, so I am going to scale back and spend a lot more time with them.

And I hope to continue to be a voice for public safety, and especially for telecommunicators, and fight for what needs to be done to improve our ability to respond when people need help.