LAURINBURG — Placed in full operation earlier this year, the Scotland County Emergency Operations Center played host to the monthly meeting of the North Carolina 911 Board on Friday.
The center’s construction began in 2013 and continued into 2014, funded primarily by a $2.1 million grant from the state 911 board and with other funds drawn from a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant and from the county’s balance of unspent 911 funds.
The center now handles every 911 call placed in Scotland County and dispatches every emergency service available: police, sheriff, fire, rescue, and EMS, which were formerly dispatched to their respective headquarters.
“We have combined five different communication centers in Scotland County, which were all manned by one person, into a consolidated communication center,” said Roylin Hammond, the county’s Emergency Services director. “It’s been some struggles, and we’re going through a significant learning curve, but we are very thankful that we’re heading in this direction.
“It’s changed the whole mindset of public safety and also the public’s access to public safety.”
The building’s boardroom, which when needed will be called upon as the nerve center in orchestrating the county’s disaster response efforts, is also used as modern meeting space for the county and for law enforcement training.
“We call this our emergency operations center, but we say that a little tongue-in-cheek because the last time we activated an emergency operations center was Y2K,” Hammond said. “We’ve been extremely, extremely fortunate.”
The 911 Board, which includes emergency service officials from throughout the state, toured the facility prior to its meeting on Friday, with officials quick to point out the aesthetic upgrades along with the practical ones. “We came off of Rubbermaid furniture,” Hammond quipped.
The board’s executive director, Richard Taylor, presented a questionnaire sent annually by the Federal Communications Commission. The questionnaire was more extensive than in previous years, requesting a greater array of financial figures and statistics on services provided.
“Folks complain about it’s our money, let us spend it the way we want to,” he said. “You can see the federal government is even wanting to know how it’s going and they want to be sure the money is being spent the way it’s supposed to be spent.”
The FCC also requested information about the level of modernization in the state’s 911 system, including how many public safety answering points have implemented Text-to-911. Of the 64 PSAPs accepting texts statewide, Scotland County is not included.
“We’ve had PSAPs say they don’t want to mess with texts right now,” Taylor said. “This again is a very hot topic.”
“The deaf and hard of hearing community, they are really pushing the FCC for PSAPs to comply with this text-to-911 requirement. The FCC has been very supportive, they’ve made it very simple with the technology that’s available, so that is another thing they are really looking at.”
Taylor also updated the board on the progress of bills relevant to 911 service through the state legislature.
H.B. 352, now passed into session law, lends emergency dispatchers and telecommunicators protection from frivolous lawsuits by increasing the standard of proof required from plaintiffs in civil suits. A school safety bill, H.B. 380, would provide for the development and implementation of a panic alarm system for statewide use in schools.
That bill cleared the state House in April, as well as a first reading in the Senate before being referred to the Senate’s rules committee.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.