Ala. city's new, state-of-the-art emergency operations center opens

"It's currently the largest emergency operations center in the state of Alabama," 911 director Rod Coleman said


By Stephanie Taylor
The Tuscaloosa News

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The first group of employees has moved into Tuscaloosa's new state-of-the-art Tuscaloosa County Emergency Operations Center.

Tuscaloosa County 911 call-takers have been working out of the $16 million facility for the last two weeks. Dispatchers with Tuscaloosa and Northport police and fire departments, University of Alabama Police, Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office and NorthStar paramedics will move in by the end of the year.

"It's currently the largest emergency operations center in the state of Alabama," said 911 director Rod Coleman.

The building off Rose Boulevard is just under 20,000 square feet and will also house the office of Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency. Completion of the building, which broke ground in July 2016, is the result of more than 20 years of discussions about putting the same dispatchers under the same roof.

 

Following a model in use across the country and state, the move doesn't consolidate operations, but rather "co-locates" the employees that all work for their respective agencies, Coleman said.

The method of operation is intended to solve the problem of callers being transferred multiple times between agencies and having to repeat their problems during emergencies. Call-takers are able to enter information into the computer system and have it show up, in real time, on the computer screens of the dispatchers who direct police, firefighters and paramedics to the scene.

The center was built to withstand any type of threat. The only window is on the front door, which is secure and not open to the public. There are 12-inch concrete walls and 14-inch concrete ceilings, and earth berming around three sides of the building to protect against high winds.

The EMA area of the building has conference rooms, bunkers in case workers need to stay overnight and a situation room. The area for call-takers and dispatchers includes a quiet room, with a couch and chairs that can be used if the nature of the job becomes overwhelming and someone needs to take a minute alone. Dispatcher call stations feature monitors and desktops that can be electronically raised or lowered, and adjustable fans that blow warm and cool air toward the desk.

There's also a full kitchen with several refrigerators, a range and a dining area. A 6,000-square-foot logistics building separate from the main facility can be used to store emergency supplies and includes more bunkers if overnight stays become necessary. RV hookups in the back parking lot can provide power, water and sewer access for the different police departments' mobile crime units.

Tuscaloosa County 911 used money collected from the state's 911 surcharge for phone customers to pay for the land and building. It's built on 13.1 acres purchased from Black Warrior Solid Waste Disposal Authority for $102,000.

The facility is at 7400 Richard M. Pierce Parkway, named after the first 911 and EMA director for Tuscaloosa County.

Copyright 2018 The Tuscaloosa News

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