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New 911 center to open today
[January 07, 2013]

New 911 center to open today

GREENSBORO, Jan 07, 2013 (News & Record - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When shots ring out, a fire rages or a medical emergency unfolds in Guilford County, residents dial Guilford Metro 911.

But few ever get a glimpse behind the scenes of the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation that keeps police, fire and EMS responders covering the county.

When the newly renovated Guilford Metro 911 call center at 1201 Coliseum Blvd. opens today, the public will get an in-depth look at the emergency headquarters. The center will hold an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. to show off its recent expansion and the new equipment Director Wesley Reid says will revolutionize emergency response in the county.

"The citizens really pay for all this," Reid said. "Not just through the state money we receive and local city and county money that paid for the construction part of our expansion, but also through the 60-cent charge they see on their phone bills, landline and cell. We think this is a good opportunity for them to see what it is they're paying for." Renovations to the center include: --An expansion from 2,400 square feet to 5,400 square feet.

--Space for 26 staff members taking calls and dispatching at the main center, up from 20.

--A renovated backup space that allows for 18 more staffers who can work with the main center.

--More than seven miles of new cables, including 3.3 miles of network, radio and video cables and 3.8 miles of electrical cable.

--Automatic call distribution software, which will improve response times.

"This is all going to speed up our service," Reid said as he walked through the center last week. "It's going to dramatically change the way we do business." One difference between the old center and new is an open, more expansive floor plan. The building was taken back to the studs, the floor pulled up and a wall taken down to open up the main operations room. That allows for more consoles -- large desks, each with a bank of monitors and phone system.

A new monitor was added to each desk for maps that will allow each dispatcher to visualize the scene, give directions and have a better visual reference in emergencies.

The new desks include individual fan systems to heat and cool the employees' direct area during often-grueling 12-hour shifts.

The room is flanked by eight 42-inch flat screen monitors allowing employees to see weather conditions, security, the number of operators available, the number on the phone and the numbers of incoming and waiting calls.

The new center has 26 total consoles -- 15 for law enforcement, fire and EMS dispatch positions, eight for taking 911 calls, two for supervisors who will independently oversee call-taking and dispatch, and one spare position.

One big improvement is having two supervisors rather than one, Reid said. This allows each supervisor to concentrate on either dispatchers or call-takers rather than having one supervisor attempting to run everything.

With the center receiving about 1,000 calls a day, that's no small change.

"We don't have a lot of room for error in a 911 center," Reid said.

The improvements were a long time coming. For years, the center got by on $1.6 million a year in state funding, which didn't allow them to improve technology and keep up with the times. Last year, after having trouble finding replacement parts for old equipment, the center appealed to the state 911 board for more money. The budget was bumped up to $2.7 million a year. With the city of Greensboro and the county kicking in money for construction costs, the renovation quickly went from dream to reality.

Reid said the building's original design lasted 15 years -- a good run in the constantly changing world of communications technology. The improvements should help it last another 15, at least.

Best of all, Reid said, the new center is designed for expansion. As the need grows, it could grow to accommodate 40 call-take and dispatch positions.

"All of our hardware, all of our software is new now," Reid said. "And we're going to be on a four-year cycle of improvements now and making more upgrades as funding allows. We're on the right track." Contact Joe Killian at 373-7023, and follow @joekillian on Twitter.

___ (c)2013 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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