By Olivia Hewitt
The opening of the Rockbridge County 911 Emergency Call Center is delayed again until early April because the new digital radio system had to be updated and reprogrammed.
Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter said the completion of the radio system must happen simultaneously with the transfer of phone lines to the new center, which depends on the phone manufacturer’s schedule.
“On any large project where you’re trying to coordinate many, many different systems or many, many different people involved, and especially large systems, you have to anticipate it will be some kind of speed bump along the way,” said Lt. Scott Bedell, director of the call center.
Last year, Bedell announced that the center would be moving from underneath the Buena Vista Police Department to the old Lomax building on 100 Baner Lane in Buena Vista.
Buena Vista Police Chief Keith Hartman said at the Jan. 18 city council meeting the center was supposed to go live Feb. 8.
Bedell said previous delays were due to last-minute reviews of leasing paperwork by the federal government on two of the radio towers the county uses. They are located on federally owned property. The reviews overlapped with the center’s original opening on Feb. 8.
Suter said early April is the next time the center could schedule the phone system manufacturers to do their work.
“There’s so many things that have to fall into place, and there’s so many things that have to occur. We can’t leave any box unchecked, and so that was one of the boxes,” he said.
Hartman said the new radio system would allow the police, fire and the rescue departments to have their own dedicated section of channels, a step up from their current walkie-talkie-like radios.
“This will bring us into the next generation and bring us up to speed with all the other modern police agencies and all the other fire department agencies,” he said.
Dispatchers, in the meantime, are not working in optimal conditions, Suter said.
“It’s a very tight, small, cramped quarters so this [new center] is a vast improvement from the current situation we have,” Hartman said.
Lucinda Crawford, a records clerk and dispatcher for the center, said the updated equipment would help dispatchers hear incoming calls by reducing background noise from inside the call center.
“There’s not much space at all in there and with the high call volume it is hard to hear,” Crawford said. “With the new radio system, everything will be more clear.”
Bedell said conditions are worse because new furniture and equipment were already moved to the renovated space on Baner Lane.
“So right now, we are dispatching from temporary set-up, so it’s not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but the dispatchers are working through that,” Bedell said. “I hope we get up there as quick as we can for their sake.”
Suter said the 911 center needs to be a secure location. Instead of covering the building’s large windows, bullet-proof glass was installed to allow natural light inside. The dispatchers are working for now in a basement.
“We want people to be happy when they come to work and have it a pleasant place to be, and natural light is a good thing,” Suter said.
The Baner Lane center is in the process of upgrading its Computer Aid Dispatch System, known as the CAD system.
The CAD system will provide the dispatcher with the information associated with a phone number, such as an address and past calls for help. The information can then be gathered into reports and stored in a database.
Suter said the upgrade of the CAD system will take a year.
“The better the information that we put in now, the better the CAD system will work and the better information we will get out of the CAD system,” he said.
The upgraded system can help agencies figure out which first responders to send and how many.
“It helps inform decisions for making the service better, making better budgetary decisions, et cetera. And it’s critical to have that information. Right now, the information we can get out is not that good,” Suter said.
Bedell said the new CAD system would allow quicker access to emergency call information.
“I need to be able to just go in, and extract that data from our records,” he said. “So, if an agency head comes to me and says how many calls of this type did my officers answer, or if a fire chief says how many structure fires in my jurisdiction did we have, it shouldn’t take me weeks and weeks to do that.”
The new center will provide more space for dispatchers and additional computer servers.
Bedell said it is necessary for the county to be as technologically advanced as possible.
“We have to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” he said. “We never want them to happen, but that is, unfortunately, something we have to contemplate.”