Coast-to-Coast Attendance at Minnesota Chapter Meeting
The Minnesota Chapter held a hybrid meeting on May 5 and enjoyed “coast to coast” participation from members on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and three states in between. The “long distance champion” of the evening was James Yost, hailing from Portland, OR. James is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Talco Fire Systems. The East Coast representative was Chief Paul Zbikowski, the Chairman of the Massachusetts Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition, hailing from the Boston area. “Chief Z” is also the new Massachusetts State Coordinator for NFSA.
Dennis Wood, NFSA Director of Operations, and Caleb Armbrust, NFSA Director of Membership, joined us from Baltimore, MD, and Lexington, KY, respectively. 10 Minnesota Chapter members attended the meeting in-person, including new NFSA member Jill Larson-Vito of the Minneapolis office of JCI Fire Protection.
The Minnesota Chapter has used the hybrid meeting format for a number of meetings, and we have finally overcome the technology challenges of having multiple people in a conference room setting interfacing successfully with remote audience members. Minnesota Chapter Chair, Sean Flaherty with Viking Automatic Sprinkler, decided early-on that hybrid meetings could leverage attendance, ensuring that remote Chapter members and guests from around the nation could attend and enrich our meetings. The chapter has used the hybrid meeting format for each of its bi-monthly meetings since July 2020. But technology bugs have been a nagging problem until recently. Thanks to some newly arrived equipment from NFSA headquarters, the May meeting was a remarkable success.
If one were asked to name a “positive” outcome for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer most heard would be the rise of virtual meetings and events. Although many people report being “burnt out” from continual Zoom meetings, NFSA has leveraged the new virtual workplace with exciting innovations and unique applications. One technology investment that has significantly benefitted local NFSA chapters is the NFSA’s deployment of portable audio-visual (AV) equipment kits to various regions, including the North Central Region. Packaged in compact Pelican cases, AV equipment includes a tripod, camera, a USB hub, power strip, audio switcher, a portable speaker, and various connection cables. The equipment is designed to be used in conjunction with an NFSA laptop and the internet to facilitate virtual meetings and livestreamed events. The gear can be taken to the classroom, the board room, or the field to create unique collaboration opportunities not seen in other sprinkler industry or fire service associations.
Hybrid meetings ensure that local COVID-19 protocols can be complied with as they change, while opening participation up to larger attendees. NFSA members and potential members who are geographically remote from the meeting location can participate, speakers from around the nation can present to a local chapter audience, and national NFSA leaders can speak directly to local members.
The portable AV equipment can also be used to “livestream” video directly to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For the first time, local, national, and even international audiences can view and comment on NFSA side-by-side demonstrations, conferences and expos, and charity events. Recent livestreamed side-by-side demonstrations have easily and repeatedly reached audiences of more than 4,000 viewers. Imagine the impact of having 4,000 people see the products and services offered by our members!
Field Operations staff have very successfully used the portable AV equipment to expand the training opportunities to members. Local and national instructors from all parts of the industry have presented at a number of chapter events in Florida, Texas, Seattle, Connecticut, and other areas. Members can attend classes and product demonstrations without the cost of traveling or the threat of COVID-19 exposure. Many of the virtual training sessions provide CEUs for member certification and licensing requirements.
NFSA has worked hard to get and stay ahead of the technology curve so vital to surviving and thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. The portable AV kits provided to Field Operations personnel are one small part of the technology improvements, but they are yielding impressive results, making a wide variety of resources available to our members, expanding our industry’s “reach,” and helping to bring our industry partners even closer during a period when most other organizations are suffering from being socially distanced and isolated. The use of NFSA portable AV kits will certainly be part of the Association’s – and the Minnesota Chapter’s – “new normal” moving forward!