By Sutton Travis
Dispatchers working around the clock at the Rockbridge regional Emergency Call Center will relocate soon to a renovated building, with a digital radio system that will make it easier for the ECC staff to serve the community.
ECC Director Scott Bedell expects that the facility’s renovations – on Midland Trail just outside of Buena Vista – will be complete within two months.
“Not to say that there won’t be hold-ups and that kind of thing, but we’re moving along at a very steady clip,” Bedell said.
The ECC is a joint governmental operation between Rockbridge County and the cities of Lexington and Buena Vista. Dispatchers accept and direct emergency and nonemergency calls in the area.
The construction crew recently finished replacing the sewer line under the ECC’s new location at the former Lomax Funeral Home at 2200 E. Midland Trail.
Currently, the crew is reroofing the building and upgrading the electrical service, which Bedell said should be completed in the next two weeks.
Installation of the new radio system is awaiting leases for two radio towers, according to Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter. The towers belong to the state, but are located on federally owned property in Augusta and Alleghany counties. “Based on some recent meetings, we are cautiously optimistic that this will be resolved soon,” Suter said in an email.
Upgrading from an analog to a digital radio system will have many technical benefits, including a safety backup feature that ensures if one radio line fails, the other will pick it up – enabling a dispatcher to stay online with the caller.
ECC dispatchers field calls from the county’s four primary law enforcement agencies – the Rockbridge County sheriff, Lexington city police, Buena Vista city police and the VMI police department. But this is just part of the ECC’s responsibilities. Dispatchers also handle calls for the county’s volunteer and emergency rescue services – 12 in all, according to the Rockbridge County website.
“All of them expect to have their radio traffic answered immediately, and rightfully so,” Bedell said.
After nearly two decades in the old headquarters, Bedell said the need for a new building was partially due to growth in the region, which led to a push for more ECC staff. His dispatchers found themselves working in tighter quarters.
The ECC is budgeted for 16 full-time dispatchers, one 911 technician and a records clerk. There are also a couple of part-time positions.
“To staff more people just fundamentally takes more space,” Bedell said. “We just kind of outgrew it.”
Bedell emphasized that, with a typical minimum staff of three dispatchers for every shift, the ECC works hard to juggle the demands of all the emergency and non-emergency services.
“A lot of people think that we have just a whole roomful of people answering all these calls, and it’s just three people,” Bedell said. “The dispatchers are very good at multitasking and prioritizing. They have a very difficult job.”
Although all three local governments contribute to the ECC’s budget, the county took the lead in relocating the ECC, according to Buena Vista City Manager Jay Scudder. He said he was originally more reluctant to move forward with buying a new location, believing that the current building was sufficient for the ECC’s operations.
“The quarters were to some extent cramped, but functional,” Scudder said. “You know, [dispatch] is about calls in and calls out.”
The Rockbridge County administration eventually chose the county to be the sole buyer of the new building. The county also offered additional financial incentives to the two cities. Scudder said this helped convince Buena Vista and Lexington to support the move to the new building.
He added that the updated call center will be an asset to the community for years to come.
“It’s a good thing,” Scudder said. “I think it will serve us well into the future.”
Bedell agreed, saying the new building would give his dispatchers the space they need to work comfortably and efficiently.
“We’re trying to provide for [the dispatchers], so they can do their job,” Bedell said. “We have an updated and good facility for them so they can look out for the community.”
Half of the ECC’s new building is to be set aside for county Emergency Management, Fire and Emergency Medical Services office space. Suter said the building could also potentially include a regional emergency operations center in the future.
Suter will give a construction update on the county office side of the ECC building to the county Board of Supervisors at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.