Albany Dougherty Emergency Management Chief James Carswell, center, describes the newly renovated 911 Communications Center to city officials. (Staff Photo: Jim West)
ALBANY — City officials and members of the Albany City Commission were given a guided tour of the newly equipped and renovated 911 Communications Center following their regular commission meeting Tuesday. After a brief introduction by James Carswell, chief of Albany-Dougherty Emergency Management Agency and chief of the Albany Fire Department, a narrow red ribbon was cut, allowing entry to the high-tech communications center.
“Up until recently we were functioning with 30-year-old equipment,” Carswell said. “With the commission’s blessing and the voters approval of SPLOST 6, it allowed us to come into the 21st century.”
Carswell said that while the new cutting-edge dispatch equipment and greater future flexibility is a major plus, the greatest improvements in efficiency and productivity may be derived from the new operator-friendly work stations.
“Earlier consoles were not designed to do anything but perform the duties, not for comfort,” Carswell said. “Now there’s more functionality to adjust to body type and need. I believe that in years to come we’ll see a less stressful, better performance from this dispatchers, simply because of comfort.”
Communications Manager, Charlotte Floyd demonstrated the new work stations to the visitors, showing how the keyboard could be adjusted either up or down to almost any height. Seats can be almost infinitely adjusted as well, Floyd said.
Shifts of eight dispatchers and a supervisor handle a variety of 911 calls involving EMS, fire, and Albany or Dougherty police departments. Dispatchers also work with public safety officials for timely records retrieval and in other capacities. Local weather is tracked.
Carswell said about 20 years ago the communications center was housed in the basement of the county courthouse. When the jail was moved from the courthouse to its new facility, the center took its spot.
“They renovated the space,” Carswell said, “but we still had the old equipment. It was just stacked up and laid out inefficiently. It was hard to see over it in spots.”
Carswell said the antiquated electronics were suited for communications years ago when calls were around 100,000 annually. Now, with call volume near to 250,000, the old stuff doesn’t cut it. New equipment does the job more efficiently and also allows for more flexibility and capacity for the future, he said.
In addition, Carswell said that a full backup system would soon be operational, allowing communications even if the primary system is destroyed by fire, tornado or other disaster.
“This is a wonderful place,” said Albany mayor Dorothy Hubbard. “I’m so grateful to the people for voting in the SPLOST so we could have this renovation. It also means to me that we’re able to connect all the emergency departments together. It excites to thing that if this goes down we would have another facility we could activate so that in an emergency we would never be without our 911 communications.”