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County glad to have new 911 center
08.07 911 center 3
Effingham 911 dispatchers man their stations as they handle incoming calls. The new 911 center opened in June. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

It’s built to handle a lot — and that’s just what its inhabitants and owners want.

County officials cut the ribbon on the new 911 multi-agency call center Tuesday afternoon, officially culminating a project that has been in the works for several years.

“This is a different kind of character of a building,” said architect Forrest Lott of Lott and Barber. “It’s the strong but silent type. We want them to work when we need them and hope we don’t have to use them.”

The new 911 center, off Courthouse Road, went into operation on June 16 and since then has handled more than 8,600 calls in and out. The center was built with special purpose local option sales tax funds and was constructed for $1.9 million, almost $240,000 less than the original estimate.

There also were only three change orders, amounting to 1.8 percent of the contract price. The final price tag of the building, with security, furnishing, wiring and landscaping, was $2.02 million.

“It’s a wonderful project,” said county project manager Adam Kobek.

The multi-agency call center also can serve multiple purposes. It has room for an emergency operations center with 24 seats for members of public safety agencies and public utilities. There are also four rooms adjacent to the emergency operations center for meetings and one has a backup dispatch unit in case the regular dispatch stations are overloaded.

In such an emergency, said Walter Wright, the group in the EOC would prioritize the calls to handle and the backup dispatch unit would send out the appropriate responding units.

“We looked at other EOCs and we took their good portions and combined them,” Wright said. “This is perfect for us.”

The 911 committee of Guyton Police Chief Randy Alexander, Springfield Police Chief Paul Wynn, Rincon Police Chief Mike Bohannon, Effingham County Fire Chief Val Ashcraft, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, EMS Director Wanda McDuffie and County Administrator David Crawley will oversee the operation of the center. Sheila O’Dwyer is the director of the 911 center.

The 911 call room has four dispatch stations and room for another set of four stations, Wright said. There are always at least two dispatchers on duty and usually three, O’Dwyer said. The center also is working on becoming phase 2 compliant, where 911 dispatchers can pinpoint the location of calls and emergency situations.

“It’s state of the art right now,” Wright said.

The roof, a flat membrane type, also has no penetrations through it for wiring, plumbing or ventilation. That, Wright said, will cut down the chances for leaks.

“Everything we did in this building, we had a lot of thought behind it,” he said.

O’Dwyer credited Wright and Ashcraft for planning what would be in the building and how it would look.

“They had a lot of ideas for it,” she said. “They were instrumental in it.”

The 911 center was built to withstand 140 mph winds. There also are a series of redundancies built in — each air breather unit has a backup. In case outside power is cut off, a generator can provide as much as 70 hours of uninterrupted electrical service.

“If there’s a hurricane, this is where I’d want to be,” said Greg Brunson of Brunson Construction, the contractor for the 911 center. “It’s got to be one of the strongest ones I’ve ever seen built.”