The efficiency of Scotland County’s 911 emergency services will receive a critical boost if the county’s proposed Emergency Operations Center is constructed, according to local emergency service professionals.
Scotland County has been “told unofficially” that it has been awarded a $600,000 grant to construct an Emergency Operations Center, which will allow the county to consolidate its 911 operations and move its modern 911 computer system into a more appropriate, modern building.
While up to $1 million would be available for construction of the facility from the grant, an additional $2.5 million would be required to complete the project, which ideally would be finished before the end of the second quarter of 2013.
The county is currently finalizing a grant application to the North Carolina 911 Board, due April 1. The grant could net the county over $5 million toward facility completion.
The only immediately noticeable change to people calling 911 would be the question they are asked when their call is taken.
Operators currently ask callers whether they require the police, fire or EMS assistance.
Thanks to operator cross-training, and to the consolidation of all county operators, the question in the new facility will become simply, “What is your emergency?”
The new Emergency Operation Center will mean much more than that to the county’s emergency services professionals, however.
Scotland County EMS Director Roylin Hammond said that the proposed facility would, in addition to future-proofing the 911 service, allow Scotland County to streamline its emergency services, which are currently scattered in different locations.
“Instead of transferring emergency calls, we will have all of our operators in a single room,” meaning that redirection of calls to the appropriate emergency service will no longer be needed.
“Those extra seconds could mean the difference between life and death,” noted EMS Operations and Training Officer Mike Edge, who started his career as a road medic.
The current 911 infrastructure, which includes the computer system powering the service, “strains the electrical system” of the buildings that the system is currently installed in, said Edge.
“These buildings are 25-years old, in some cases, and not built to house modern 911 systems.”
Edge knows firsthand about the critical nature of the seconds that it takes to transfer emergency calls to the appropriate service.
“I’ve been on the calling end of a house fire, and I’ve experienced what it’s like to have to wait for your call to be transferred to the fire house, and those are some tense moments.”
The new EOC, which is designed to act as a location for emergency efforts to be coordinated in the event of a disaster, will also be constructed in a location superior to the building where the current EOC is housed.
“The current EOC is in the old county building, a low-lying area two blocks from the railroad tracks,” said Hammond.
“A CSX railroad disaster is probably the greatest hypothetical threat to the county, and the new facility will be much farther away.”
The proposed site for the 9000 square foot facility is next to the EMS building adjacent to the West Boulevard County Complex – approximately three quarters of a mile from the tracks.
The county is also in discussions with Richmond County regarding the construction of an identical structure inside their borders, enabling the two 911 facilities to act as redundancy services for each other in the event that one facility is not functioning.
Scotland County and Richmond County share virtually identical 911 systems.
“The worst case scenario is an F-4 tornado … destroying our facility,” said Hammond, in which case Richmond County’s EOC facility would take over Scotland County’s 911 duties.
According to Hammond, Richmond County is not as far along in the process toward the construction as Scotland County.