ST. GEORGE — The St. George Communications Center was in full operation Monday during an open house to showcase the new facility, which is equipped with cutting-edge technology for the hundreds of calls answered by emergency dispatchers during any given shift.
Emergency dispatch services have undergone profound changes driven by the internet, advanced software and mobile technology propelled by the belief that a consistent level of 911 service is vital for everyone in a community.
To that end, the St. George Communications Center has moved into a larger facility. At Monday’s open house, dozens gathered to celebrate a move more than a year in the making.
The new state-of-the-art facility is located in the City Commons building on 200 East, across from the St. George Police Department, and it is now home to the more than 40 emergency dispatchers that make up the 700 working across the state.
The command center is a spacious room with subdued lighting and new workstations equipped with technology that provides the ability to access information from various databases and then share that with other responders more quickly and efficiently.
When the Communications Center had outgrown the space at the police department and a larger center was needed, Communications Manager Cindy Flowers said they learned that the upper floor of the Commons Building was vacant and would provide the added space needed while limiting the costs associated with a move.
When asked what has changed since the move from the old center to the new facility, Flowers said, “What is different is everything.”
Not only did the center move into a larger facility, she said, but new equipment was also purchased to handle the ever-increasing volume of calls being handled by emergency dispatchers daily. She explained that Washington County is one of the fastest growing counties in Utah and the emergency communications center needed to keep up with the growth.
In 2020, more than 248,000 911 calls were received by the center.
Flowers said the new equipment and larger facility will allow emergency dispatchers to continue to provide a higher level of service to the community and to ensure that anyone who calls 911 “will get the help they need quickly.”
St. George Police Chief Kyle Whitehead was also present during the tour and said that St. George is growing rapidly and the emergency communication center needs to keep up with the growth.
“There’s a lot going on here in St. George,” Whitehead said. “It’s exciting to have an updated center with all of the latest and greatest technology.”
Whitehead said the layout of the new facility provides reconfigurations that will allow for further growth in the existing space, which will make it possible for the communications center to continue operations in the facility for the next 10-15 years.
While the planning stage began more than a year ago, the actual move to the new facility took a little more than a week, St. George Communications Center supervisor Austin Despain said.
Despain said the move was no small task, considering the center continued to take emergency calls at a secondary site while all of the phone lines, servers, computers and other equipment were moved from the police department to the new facility across the street.
“That is extremely fast considering everything we had to move,” Despain said, adding they worked long hours to make it happened, but overall, he said “it went without a hitch.”
The bulk of the work was completed at the beginning of the month, Justin Grenier, St. George Communications Center assistant manager, said, but that was foreshadowed by many months of planning.
In all, 13 workstations were set up with upgraded consoles and other state-of-the-art equipment, all with room to expand. There is enough room in the main hub of operations for 20 workstations, and there is also an adjacent room that can be used to set up more workstations if needed.
Grenier said the additional space provides a healthier work environment that is easier to maintain since the workstations are spaced farther apart, which also makes it easier for them to hear calls without as much background noise.
The move includes CAD information system upgrades with mapping technology to help dispatchers locate callers more quickly and to identify the closest and most appropriate resources, as well as other equipment and software upgrades that were implemented to make the operation more efficient and enhance 911 services across the board.
Another innovative move the communications center made was to put together “go bags” that were issued to employees a year ago when the first stay at home orders were being issued, a move that allowed emergency dispatchers to work from home and maintain service levels once the pandemic hit. As a result, Flowers said, employee numbers remained consistent with fewer illnesses and time lost.
St. George News reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this report.
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