New 911 center more advanced than predecessor
Friday, February 20, 2009
The emergency communication center at fire station No. 3 in Cape Girardeau resembles something out of science fiction.
Each dispatch station is equipped with six flat-screen computer monitors, each serving a different purpose, and a map projection in the center of one wall depicts the exact location of every fire hydrant.
On the various computers, dispatchers can run criminal background checks for officers, handle 911 calls as they come in, track calls for service, map where each call is coming from and view feeds from security cameras in the municipal jail.
The communication center, in use since November, is significantly more advanced than its predecessor at 40 S. Sprigg St., said assistant fire chief Mark Hasheider.
"Probably the most advanced technology we've done so far is moving up to using microwaves," Hasheider said.
The microwave technology allows dispatchers to transmit digital signals, meaning they can communicate more quickly and effectively with emergency personnel, Hasheider said.
Small changes in the incorporation of new technology have made the way dispatchers can respond to 911 calls much more efficient, Hasheider said.
"When you look at it, it's the same as the old 911 center, but the backdrop has changed," Hasheider said.
The new 911 center, which cost about $1.5 million, is housed in a building that also contains the base of emergency operations management for the city. It made sense to put the two in the same building, Hasheider said.
Certain features make the new 911 center more useful in an emergency than the old facility. The center can, if necessary, automatically redirect all calls to the city's public safety agencies to the center.
"It lets us control and coordinate our emergency response -- a small item unless there's a disaster," Hasheider said.
The dispatchers can also use video to monitor any major building in the city should an incident occur.
"'Big Brother's watching you' is not occurring dramatically here, but it's slowly expanding at other agencies," Hasheider said.
Recently, some dispatchers moved to work at highway patrol Troop C headquarters and found the control center for 911 operations similar to the one in Cape Girardeau, which instilled pride in the department, Hasheider said.
For dispatcher Kim Conway, the new technology is nice, but it's the spacious digs she finds most useful about the new 911 center. At the old communication center, dispatchers "practically sat on top of one another," but now they have the space to spread out.
"It's like night and day," she said.
While the new phone and records management systems have been tricky to learn and have created a bit more paperwork, "we're adjusting nicely," Conway said. "It's worth every bit of it."
Another addition to the fire department's ability to respond to emergencies is its mobile command center -- a Chevy Suburban equipped with a satellite dish and its own interoperability equipment, Hasheider said.
"We can be at any place at any time and set up communications," Hasheider said.
The mobile command center comes with a 24-phone calling system, comparable to that of a small business, Hasheider said. It also allows emergency personnel to patch together equipment that may not be on the same frequency, making communication effortless in a disaster.