Pa. city 911 dispatchers get $18.2M upgraded facility

The 67,000-square-foot center features upgraded technology and communication devices


Natasha Lindstrom
The Tribune-Review

GREENSBURG, Pa. — As storm spotters warned of thunder, lightning and gusty winds clustering near Cranberry on Friday afternoon, Allegheny County 911 dispatchers began to see a slight uptick in calls from gleaming new workstations near Pittsburgh International Airport.

Fourteen initial call-takers promptly picked up the lines. Within 30 seconds, they routed each caller to one of dozens of other 911 Center operations staff strategically positioned throughout the large, high-ceiling room to specific zones by region, such as Pittsburgh or the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Monitors displayed overhead citing the number of active calls, while other screens showed a wide range of offenses being reported — a possible road rage incident, a child welfare check, a residential fire alarm, a possible hit-and-run incident and a report of stolen car.

 
The New Allegheny County Emergency Services Facility

Allegheny County Emergency Services has moved to its new home - with three of the four divisions now calling Moon Township home. The new state-of-the-art facility would not have been possible without many, many partners including Senator Jay Costa and former Senator Randy Vulakovich.

Posted by Allegheny County on Friday, June 28, 2019

Dispatchers focused intently on each caller, calmly asked pointed follow-up questions. In situations that called for it, they provided the person on the other end of the line with assurance that police or medics were on the way.

Allegheny County’s 911 Center takes, on average, between 3,500 and 4,000 calls a day.

New digs, upgraded technology

This month, for the first time, the county’s more than 200 employees in 911 operations are working out of a new facility along Hookstown Grade Road in Moon Township.

The 67,000-square-foot center features upgraded technology and communication devices. It includes plenty of space for not only emergency services coordination across dozens of agencies but also multi-purpose rooms that can house trainees as well as news media. The 911 Center shares the larger complex with emergency services workers, the Allegheny County Fire Marshal and administrative offices for the Fire Academy.

All 330 employees — including managers, coordinators, communications specialists, fire and explosion investigators, tank facility inspectors and fire training instructors — were housed in the new facility by June 5. Some had moved from the center’s former site in Pittsburgh months ago.

The county celebrated the grand opening of the Emergency Services Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Friday followed by a tour in the newly renovated, custom-designed facility.

Among politicians who attended: U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, state Sen. Pam Iovino and former state Sen. Randy Vulakovich. Allegheny County Airport and county council members also were there.

“We built a state-of-the-art for communications, for the 911 center, for emergency services here on airport property. And it’s going to be here for generations to come,” Fitzgerald told the Tribune-Review. “We invested in something not just for Pittsburgh or for Allegheny County but all of southwestern Pennsylvania. We wanted to be sure it could be able to handle what the people need.”

It helped that “this building was basically vacant, even though it was built as a communications center,” Fitzgerald said. “It was a good deal for the taxpayer.”

‘Bargain basement’ deal

When the county’s lease on the City of Pittsburgh-owner former Emergency Services Center site on Lexington Avenue was set to end, officials set their sights on the airport authority-owner property in Moon Township, which already had been designed and operated as a communications hub for United Airways.

Among historic events to be managed there: Captain Sully Sullenberger’s 2009 emergency plane landing dubbed the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

The total project cost to prepare the site for county use was $18.2 million. Fifteen percent was paid via a state grant program.

Costa said he and Vulakovich worked on legislation and “later the disbursement of funds for projects like this.”

The Allegheny County Airport Authority bought the property in January 2016.

“The partnership between American Airlines and the Airport Authority provided a unique opportunity for the county to relocate its facility from its former location in the Point Breeze neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh,” county officials said in a news release.

Last year, the county’s 911 Center took 1.1 million calls across all 130 municipalities. It serves as the primary dispatcher for 117 communities.

Emergency Services Chief Matt Brown recounted the former Lexington site servicing as the home base during two back-to-back Stanley Cup championships for public safety management of the ensuing mass celebrations alongside Pittsburgh police.

“There are good moments and there are bad moments as to why we would operate the emergency services center,” Brown said.

He recounted employees working around the clock for days during the severe weather event dubbed “Snowmagadeon,” the February 2010 storm that dumped more than 21 inches of snow in the region in two days.

“No matter what happens, no matter what fails, we need to function,” Brown said. “We need to be able to communicate and coordinate for the first responders and the residents of the county.”

In addition to the latest technology and purportedly fail-safe communications tools, the new center includes features to make for a better working environment, including more open space, better lighting and ergonomic work stations, to help make it easier to get through long shifts, Brown said.

The center collaborates with 93 police agencies, 169 fire departments and 40 emergency medical services.

Among its major tasks last year were responding to hundreds of landslides, flooding incidents and river ice jams.

The county fire marshal’s office last year investigated 412 fires, including 15 fire-related fatalities.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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©2019 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

 

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