‘We’re Ecstatic’: New 9-1-1 Center Nears Opening at Clarion County Complex
PAINT TWP., Pa. (EYT) – “We’re ecstatic,” said Clarion County Director of Public Safety Jeff Smathers last Thursday as he surveyed the state-of-the-art 9-1-1 Center that will soon open at the Clarion County Complex in Shippenville, the site of the former Sorce/Krouse warehouse in Paint Township.
(Pictured above: Michelle Lander, 9-1-1 Deputy Director.)
An open house for the public will be scheduled by the Clarion County Commissioners, but Smathers plans to move on May 24.
The entire building has been remodeled by Clarion County employees to bring new life to the building that in one way or another serves all county departments, but the crown jewel is undoubtedly a new 9-1-1 Center, operation center, and emergency management facility.
The 55,000 square-foot building also contains space for storage of records, equipment, and supplies. The old county jail in Clarion behind the courthouse provided some space for 9-1-1 and record storage, but safety conditions existing in the jail limited the use of the facility.
“I give kudos to the commissioners–Ted Tharan, Wayne Brosius, and Ed Heasley–for having a vision of seeing what this could look like,” said Smathers. “It’s been badly needed for many, many years, and doing it first class and cost-effectively for a project like this is also a saving for the county.”
At the time of the $670,000.00 purchase of the building in 2020, Brosius stated the commissioners planned to use as much funding as allowable from the county COVID grant.
Where possible, grant money has also been used to improve emergency communication throughout Clarion County, buying new towers instead of leasing them.
“The biggest savings we have, are combining operations into one building like this, and then the upgrades we did as far as the communications network we were able to save close to $200,000.00 just in communication fees that we were paying, either through tower rentals or phone line rental,” explained Smathers. “We’ve built out a microwave network backed up by fiber. That’s a one-time purchase, but then it’s ours and it’s more reliable.
“We don’t see any downtime at all now, but the way it’s designed is that if there is a failure, one form or the other of the two backups will take over. It’s getting us ready for next-generation 9-1-1.”
Next Generation 9-1-1 will include video. Recent updates have allowed 9-1-1 to accept text messages.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the new dispatch area is the openness and natural light in the room, along with individual stations and multi-screens.
Michelle Lander, 911 Deputy Director, has been with 9-1-1 for 16 years, and the new facility is “a dream come true.”
“I think everybody’s really excited about it. We’ve been hoping and wanting something nice like this for a long time. I guess you always kind of hope.”
According to Smathers, there are still going to be the same number of dispatchers because they will all be in the same room, and space will be used more effectively.
They are currently in two rooms, and communications back and forth can be time-consuming in an emergency.
When Lander first started at the center, there were three screens, and now there are eight to monitor, making employee training a priority.
“We like to set a benchmark for six months of training from start to finish,” added Smathers. “We run them through the process of getting them what we call phone certified. We usually start on the phones, and we’ll have them do simple calls. Once we get them familiar with the buttons because they have the next-gen keypads, they have different features that they can run the phone system on the console.”
The “War Room”
“Once they are certified, they are a very valuable asset to the county, We’re part of a 10-county consortium.”
The new 9-1-1 Center may even help recruit new dispatchers when needed because of the appealing atmosphere. The old jail dispatch room was tight.
Smathers described the 9-1-1 Center as a building within a building, loaded with special security features and reinforced outer walls. The front wall has ballistic glass across the building. Except for a planned open house, only employees and designated officials will be allowed to enter this portion of the building.
The 9-1-1 Center is a 24/7 operation with 12-hour shifts for the dispatchers. Because of that, there is a complete kitchen for the employees to make their meals and stay in the building. They can have food delivered, but most employees will make their meals here, according to Smathers.
The building has an uninterrupted power source, basically a huge bank of batteries that runs the entire floor’s lights. All Internet connections are also hardwired.
The facility includes monitors across the front, and there are 30 cameras and every door that’s in the building has its own camera. The other two main boards here are both computer boards.
“We can watch traffic cams and interact with FEMA on these,” said Smathers. “Something new that we are trying out is we’re tracking life flights of aircraft.”
A separate Emergency Operation Control Center, nicknamed by Tharan as a “War Room,” is also available for emergency officials to meet and monitor conditions.
In addition to space for the following of all county records, the building can also stock equipment and supplies for all county departments, provide additional office space, a learning center/conference room, and a multipurpose room complete with men’s and women’s restrooms, showers, and a kitchen that could be used as an emergency shelter, according to Tharan.
The Clarion County Complex will soon be the heartbeat of Clarion County.
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