LEESBURG — Like many buildings in southwest Georgia, the roof of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and 911 Center was damaged during Hurricane Michael in October.
In about a month, the 911 center will relocate to what was formerly the Lee County Environmental Health building at 110 Starksville Ave. N. in Leesburg.
Nikki Celinski, the E-911 coordinator, said she was standing right next to the door of the equipment room talking to a supervisor when they heard what sounded like a bomb going off.
The sound turned out to be the radio tower for the 911 center crashing through the roof. When she tried to open the door of the equipment room, she had trouble getting it open because of the wind, and once she was able to open the door, she saw that water was coming in through the roof.
Sheriff Reggie Rachals and his staff tarped off the roof, and none of the equipment was damaged. The 911 staff did have to evacuate and Worth County helped with calls that day.
“911 had an emergency, and you don’t think that 911 will ever have an emergency, but we did,” Celinski said.
Dispatchers and Celinski worked out of a mobile command unit loaned to Lee County by Crisp County for three-and-a-half days before moving back into the sheriff’s office temporarily.
The environmental health staff for the county has moved to a building next to the county’s courthouse, and the county is currently in the process of readying the new 911 location.
While no major renovations had to be done to the building, hardwood floors were put in what will be the dispatch room and equipment room to decrease static. Officials said some of the equipment has been installed, and the security system was finished this week.
Celinski said the foundation for the tower has already been laid, and the crew installing the tower will come on June 3, with a few finishing touches made through June 17. By the end of that time period, the staff is expected to be operational in the new building.
Celinski said she thinks this move will be better both for the 911 center and sheriff’s office.
“We’re not in a small space (at the sheriff’s office), but we’ve definitely outgrown it,” Celinski said. “Lee County’s growing all the time, so we’ve outgrown what we have. We do need bigger space. It’s just going to work out better for everybody. We’ll have more room to grow. The sheriff is going to have more room to grow.”
Celinski said because the new tower coming at the beginning of June will be much closer to the main tower, the new tower will be only have to be 120 feet, rather than the 300-foot tall tower they were using before. She also said they think being nearer to the main tower will help improve their coverage.
More than six months since Hurricane Michael caused the roof damage at the sheriff’s office, the roof there can be repaired once the 911 center is officially moved.
“We’ve got (the roof) secure, tarped off, but to repair it. We have to take some of the roof off,” Celinski explained. “We don’t want to expose the equipment to the elements.
“It’s one of the things that we have to do strategically, so once we get moved, the sheriff can have his roof repaired.”
Celinski said there should be no issues with people being able to call in to 911 on the day of the move.
“911 service will not be interrupted at any point in time,” Celinski said. “During the move, it’s not going to affect anything. If people have an emergency, they can still pick up the phone and call 911.
“The plan we have in place is to move two consoles at a time, so we’ll move one set over while the other two are operating, and then we’ll do a switch.”
If for some reason there was an issue with the switch over and moving the last two dispatch consoles, Celinski said there is a back-up plan in place. Middle Flint Regional E-911 Center has agreed to take over calls if necessary and will then contact Lee County 911 staff on their cellphones in order for them to respond out the calls coming in.
“We’ll still be able to give out the calls,” Celinski said. “So 911 service will not be interrupted. If people have an emergency, they can pick up the phone, call 911, and they will get somebody.”