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Dispatch center to replace antiquated system

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| May 12, 2009 12:00 AM

The Lincoln County dispatch center will get a much-needed system upgrade, using grant and county funds to replace equipment that was installed as early as the 1970s.

“All of this new equipment will be able to work together,” said head dispatcher Char Williamson. “Right now we have to sort of Band-Aid it together.”

Because different components were installed at different times, they don’t work together smoothly, said Williamson, and they aren’t compatible with more modern technology. Take, for example, the use of headsets. There are no headset jacks in the old telephone system, though Williamson said that dispatchers were able to “jimmy-rig” them to work with the phones. 

The telephone system is so outdated that parts are no longer available. The two aging dispatch consoles would also be difficult to fix if they were to stop working, said Williamson. She recalls taking parts from the backup console to be used on the main console.

The sheriff’s office plans to replace the analog telephone system with digital, replace the dispatch consoles with new touch-screen models, update the wiring and replace the backup generator to support the new system. Plans also call for the installation of a better heating and cooling system.

When Undersheriff Jerry Rust secured a $190,000 grant last year to replace the dispatch consoles, he didn’t know that the electrical system wouldn’t support them.

The project “just kind of mushroomed,” Rust said. “We found out there weren’t enough circuits and that the generator didn’t have enough power.”

The electrical system was installed in the 1970s when the dispatch center only consisted of a radio. Now the antiquated electrical system must support multiple computers that each have a specific use.

The electrical system was overloaded a few weeks ago and the backup generator failed. The entire office’s phone system and dispatch’s computers shut down.

“The only thing left standing at the time was the 911 system,” Sheriff Daryl Anderson said. “911 hadn’t yet shut down but I’m sure it would have if the (electrician) hadn’t come and fixed it.”

Though the center still had 911 service, dispatch was disarmed without its computers. It couldn’t look up information on individuals or their vehicles, for example, or use the mapping program to help emergency responders locate a scene. One of the computers will have to be replaced, and further damage is being assessed, Williamson said.

County commissioners last week approved $12,000 to prepare the dispatch center’s electrical system for the new dispatch consoles and $24,904 to install the new phone system. The money came out of Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or the PILT fund, which is federal money that makes up for property taxes lost on nontaxable federal lands. 

Commissioners also plan on providing funds for a new, higher amperage generator, but because it will likely cost more than $50,000, it would need to go out to bid.

Another aspect of the upgrade is a better heating and cooling system that will keep the equipment at a more constant temperature. Last summer temperatures in the dispatch center approached 100 degrees, Rust said.

To reduce the heat caused by all of the equipment in the small dispatch center, the sheriff’s office also opted to move some of the equipment into an adjacent room. As a result, the county gave the Highway Patrol, which has been occupying an office there, a 60-day notice to find a new space.