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News : Dispatchers at Work in New Call Center
Laurinburg, NC Jan 2, 2015 -- When it becomes fully operational at the end of this month, the Scotland County 911 call center and Emergency Operations Center will serve both to handle every 911 call made in Scotland County and as headquarters for officials and emergency personnel in the event of a disaster.
The center’s construction on West Boulevard next to the county EMS headquarters began in November 2013. A grant from the North Carolina 911 Board funded the call center and the county received a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Grant toward the cost of the Emergency Operations Center.
"This is a very far cry from what we had," said center director Mike Edge, formerly the county’s assistant director for emergency services. "I never in my life would have imagined that we’d have something this nice."
The call center will eliminate the multiple call transfers that were not uncommon when 911 calls were not guaranteed to reach the caller’s intended responding department. All call center staff will be able to dispatch the appropriate department to any emergency call received.
According to Edge, the call center has been in service dispatching EMS calls since mid-November, since the telephone system was moved from the EMS center into the new building. Dispatchers from the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office and Laurinburg Police Department are scheduled to move in on Jan. 20. The center will also dispatch for the various fire departments in the county and city.
Operating the center will fall to the county, with the city contributing some personnel funding, at diminishing levels, for the first 10 years of the center’s operation. The center will have 12 full-time dispatchers, or about three per shift depending on actual peak hours.
"The first year’s kind of going to be a testing ground as far as how our shifts are going to go," said Edge. "We’ve tried to look at our call volume as much as possible. It’s hard to judge every call because there are four different departments answering phones now and it’s kind of hard to put that information together."
Edge added that the center may add a supervisor position in the new fiscal year.
The Emergency Operations Center’s facilities include a briefing room that can seat more than 100, a small conference room, and a bunk room to be used in a protracted emergency situation.
As the emergency call centers in Scotland and Richmond counties will serve as backup for each other should either center go offline, the center includes five extra stations in the event that the center is called upon to handle calls for two counties.
"Our bang for our buck was, why not make each active center a backup?" Edge said of the N.C. 911 Board requirement that every center have a failsafe. "We’ll actually rotate our dispatchers through all this equipment and make sure it’s up and running and ready to go."
Other improvements in the county’s 911 system will come with the center’s new technology. A computer-aided dispatch system will provide a record of who responded to each call and will allow all law enforcement and emergency responders to track the originating address of each call placed.
Emergency calls made to law enforcement and emergency departments’ administrative numbers, Edge cautioned, will not be handled as expediently as those made directly to 911.
Calls made to those numbers during the day will be handled by a call manager, who during the day will tell emergency callers to hang up and dial 911 and will direct non-emergency calls to the correct department. Between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m., all calls to administrative lines will be handled by emergency dispatch.
"When you call 911 we can process the call quicker," said Edge. "Any time you need a uniformed officer, firefighter, or paramedic, you need to call 911."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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