Products, Public Service, Regulatory

The Center of Our Universe

By By Ernie Stephens | April 1, 2012
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With all due respect to the real folks who fly for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, and the fictitious cops who appear in the TV series “Reno 911,” I’m just not real crazy about Nevada. Even so, I’ve already booked my flight to Reno, because that’s where the 42nd annual Airborne Law Enforcement Association conference and exposition from July 11 to 14, 2012.

ALEA represents the center of the universe for us. Every aircraft manufacturer, service provider and equipment vendor that the airborne LE community does business with comes here to display their wares. There are a dozen public safety aircraft on display, hundreds of booths with all kinds of products to examine, and over a dozen workshops covering everything from unit start-up to the airborne use of deadly force.

But ALEA is so much more than that. One thing many people who have never been to ALEA fail to understand is the access it provides. When I say “access,” I mean face-to-face contact with people you would have a difficult time getting to anywhere else. For example, while the majority of the companies who do business with your agency work very hard to tend to your needs, when was the last time you were able to stand in front of the CEO of the company that manufactures your aircraft, and tell him or her what you don’t like about its design? Having a problem with the chinstraps on your helmets? The director of production may very well be there, and find a creative way to fix the issue that your sales rep doesn’t have the authority to offer. Those kinds of movers and shakers are there, easy to access, and will talk to even the lowest-ranking person from your unit.


And then there’s the technical assistance. Here’s an example: My unit’s mechanic discovered a damaged pulley aboard one of our helicopters, but couldn’t begin to account for what made it fail. So, I took the part to ALEA. Once there, I was able to have two senior engineers who work for the aircraft company look it over. Not only did they figure out what caused the damage, it prompted them to consider redesigning the part.

Most of all, ALEA brings together around 1,500 of your fellow aviation professionals, including commanders, tactical flight officers, mechanics, administrators and drivers. This event is all about answers; answers to the questions you brought with you, and answers to the questions you never even thought to ask. And then there are the informal but equally effective “committees” that gather in the lunch areas, hotel lobbies, and after-hours watering holes. To your left are four surveillance specialists from a federal agency, who are discussing the limitations of the moving map system you’re now having second thoughts about ordering.

In the corner is a friendly argument—between mechanics, no doubt—about whether or not flight crews should change their own searchlight lamps, since they sometimes explode. And your new friends from an agency in Canada just gave you a foolproof way to justify an avionics upgrade to a city administrator who doesn’t know an HSI from a box of Cocoa Puffs.

Unfortunately, though, I often hear that many aircrew members have never been to our version of “the big dance.” They frequently cite a lack of cooperation from their agency heads, who usually offer one or more of the following reasons: 1) they don’t see the cost benefit of this kind of networking, 2) it looks like a cover for a three-day beer blast, or 3) the department truly doesn’t have the money. (I heard all three where I used to work.)

But how much money are we talking about? Registration fees run from $50 to $250, depending on how many days you want to attend, whether or not you’re a member of the association, and how long you waited before registering.

For the full admission price that applies to your situation, you can spend hours cruising the exhibit hall, and attend as many of the workshops and classes as you wish. If you’re also able to come the week before, ALEA offers some excellent multi-day courses covering subjects like unit management, water egress and thermal imagery tactics. These courses have an additional tuition attached to them, which can range from $75 to $400, but are worth twice that amount, in my opinion. And did I mention that it might be tax-deductible if you pay for it yourself?

If keeping the cost down is what you have to do to sell it to the boss, there are some tactics you can try: Book your flight as far in advance as possible, take advantage of the deep discounts ALEA gets from the hotels, and belly-up to the table for all of the complimentary meals attendees are entitled to.

All I ask is that you go. ALEA is about making and keeping you and your unit safe, effective and efficient. Look for me there!

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