COLUMBIA CITY — Columbia City’s 911 dispatchers began taking calls in a new location last week — but not far from its previous location.
The city unveiled its new dispatch center last week, holding a ribbon cutting and open house Tuesday evening and taking its first calls by Wednesday morning.
The City Council made the decision to move forward with the $1.6 million project about eight months ago. Since then, a portion of City Hall quickly transformed — from the mayor’s former office and conference room to a nearly brand-new center with the latest technology.
“As the city is growing, there was a need for more dispatchers, and there just wasn’t the space,” Police Chief Scott Leatherman said.
The city has increased to its dispatch personnel in recent years — now with a total of 10 employees working at the 24/7 center.
Mayor Ryan Daniel’s office was moved upstairs, the former location of the police chief and captain’s office, for added security. The chief and captain were relocated downstairs, leaving open space on the main floor for the new center — directly across the hall from the former dispatch center.
The new operation is more than triple the size of its predecessor, and has enhanced safety features such as armored walls and glass, windows with storm shutters and tinted glass.
“The theme is safety and redundancy. We’ve enhanced the safety of our dispatchers so they can ensure the safety of our responders,” said Matt Minier, dispatcher trainer.
The center has redundancy in radio backups, telephone backups, 911 backups, power backups and even heating and air conditioning backups. In addition, the center has six different high-speed internet connections.
The city purchased its new radios, consoles and phones through Motorola Solutions via a 10-year contract that will be paid in yearly installments — an amount that was discounted by 10 percent since Columbia City made its purchase at the same time as Huntington.
The city purchased new computer-aided dispatch software from Motorola two years prior, and the police department recently purchased body cameras from the company — all of the new equipment is fully integratabtle.
In addition, by utilizing Motorola’s equipment, if disaster strikes and dispatchers are not able to access the local center, they can pick up and move to another center, such as Huntington, and work remotely.
The renovation and new equipment comes without a tax increase. Funding came from the Public Safety Local Option Income Tax — a fund that the council has been diligent with since its implementation in 2016.
The council had been planning for major dispatch expenses prior to making its decision, which was made in December 2018.
“It was brought to our attention a couple years ago,” Councilman Dan Weigold said. “There was proper planning and education put into this. It was very well planed out and easy to make the decision.”
Weigold said the money was well spent.
“We want to provide a high level of service to our citizens,” Weigold said. “I’m very proud of our dispatch personnel for how they got this all put together. This is just amazing.”
The eight months of construction included tearing down walls, stripping floors, reconstructing walls, installing major electrical and network cables, putting in custom-made furniture, and installing nearly 30 independent computers.
“We are so excited to move into our new home,” Communications Supervisor Amie LaRue said. “It is really a tremendous improvement for our residents and businesses as we leap ahead 30 years in equipment and capabilities.”
The former center had three workstations, and some of the equipment was more than 30 years old.
The new center has six work stations — a total of 56 computer monitors and television screens — and all brand new consoles and equipment. Significant time and money was also spent on proper grounding, making sure that if lightening strikes, both the equipment and dispatchers will be safe.
The Columbia City Communications department supports the Columbia City Police Department, Columbia City Fire Department and Columbia City Utilities, while also serving as an after-hours contact for residents and businesses.