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Has Technology Killed Our Networking Opportunities?

Trivia question: What was the first music video played on MTV?  Answer: On August 1, 1981, MTV started with a music video by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Although the song was released two years earlier, the lyrics suggested concern for the effects of technology. One of the reasons MTV supposedly selected this as their first video was that they thought people would be more inclined to watch music videos than listen to the radio. For a while, they were right. MTV was initially very successful, but additional alternatives, such as greater channel selection, satellite radio, and the internet dramatically influenced MTV’s programming. In a sense, technology helped MTV rise, but also led to its decline in popularity.
You are probably wondering what this has to do with Fire & EMS. In years past, training and education were accomplished primarily by attending training or conferences in person. Over the past 20 years or so, the explosion of the internet and affordable personal computers led many educational institutions, training agencies, and other organizations to provide online learning opportunities. Job-related webinars are frequently offered by various organizations, including the IAFC, providing training and information on emerging issues and trends that are both current and informative.
Having been involved with the planning of Fire-Rescue Med for several years and Fire-Rescue International since last year, it is a constant challenge to come up with presentations and speakers that will peak the interests of our attendees. As a result, attendance has not been what one might expect for conferences that are important to our profession.
The IAFC has conducted informal surveys that suggest people would rather attend webinars and online training instead of conferences. This might explain why the conference attendance is a challenge. 
Online learning certainly has its advantages. It is cost-effective and convenient for the individual, especially for organizations with limited resources. However, online learners may be missing out on valuable networking opportunities. As an example, the EFO Section sponsors a reception each year at FRI for graduates of the program. It is somewhat like a high school reunion, as you renew acquaintances with fellow students you may not have seen for quite some time. Also, it provides an opportunity to meet other graduates of the program.
Therefore, attending conferences in person offers many advantages compared to other methods of delivery. Attendees can meet and speak with the presenters in person, which is probably preferable to an offline conversation or a live chat.  Most importantly, there are numerous opportunities for networking with your peers, product vendors, and others. Both professional and personal relationships can be developed and fostered when attending conferences. It is difficult to imagine similar relationships developing if we resort only to online training and education.
The Program Planning Committee for FRI has worked hard over the past year to put a program together that features dynamic speakers, exciting and emerging topics that will provide fire service leaders with current information. Although an internet search could provide information on just about anything you would like to know, attendance at FRI will allow you to interact in real-time with industry leaders. 

Chief Robert Shimer is a retired Deputy Chief from the Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services. He is currently working for Booz Allen Hamilton, providing support for the Marine Corps Fire & Emergency Services. Shimer has been a member of the IAFC since 2003 and currently serves as the Director At Large for the EMS Section.

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