CADILLAC — One thing is certain, by the end of the year Wexford County will have its new 911/Central Dispatch facility open.
The hope is the facility will be open by the fall but Wexford County 911/Central Dispatch Director Duane Alworden is not going to put the cart before the horse. He also is not going to guarantee a specific time for the new facility to be up and operational but considering the design and layout of the new facility is basically a square — he is hopeful the construction will be completed well before the end of 2019.
As a result, there have been multiple meetings with the project architects DK Design Group, the 911/Central Dispatch Building Committee and the Wexford County Board of Commissioners.
“The reason we are having so many meetings on this is the commissioners and the (two interim co-) administrators want to make sure all the vendors we are going to use are up to speed on everything and their qualifications are what they say they are,‘ Alworden said.
With the complexity of the equipment being used and the importance of the job it does, Alworden said using vendors that are already contracted or that have installed other pieces of equipment will be essential.
He said the three major components of the project include fiber optic cable, the phone system and the radios. The final component is the actual building itself.
At Wednesday’s Wexford County Board of Commissioners meeting, it was stated bids for general contractor services for the new facility were expected to be released the third week of February and expected back sometime during the week of March 11.
“The goal is to break ground in April. That is the goal,‘ Alworden said.
What all these upgrades mean is central dispatch will be considered next-gen. In fact, Alworden said it already is.
What that means is greater amounts of data along with or instead of voice calls. That includes videos, crash data from in-vehicle computer systems and texting when a caller may be unable to speak due to poor connection or in a situation where they can’t talk.
That includes the new computer/phone system for central dispatch as well as a fiber optic network, Alworden said. While the capabilities are there, Alworden said they are still working on fixing some issues.
The process of moving from the old Wexford County Jail location on Carmel Street began on Sept. 19 when the Wexford County Board of Commissioners voted 9-0 to allow Alworden to move forward with building a 2,500-square foot dispatch center located on a parcel of land just west of the new Wexford County Jail near Warren and Lincoln streets.
During his presentation on Sept. 19, Alworden said the total cost of the building project is estimated at $856,729.21, with a majority of that cost going to the construction of the building and the remaining amount paying for upgrades to the existing system, which includes upgrading the entire radio and paging system to 800 megahertz.
Currently, all law enforcement and EMS are using 800 MHz radios while Haring and Cherry Grove townships, Manton and Buckley have made the switch from the high-band system. No agency, however, is currently using 800 MHz for its paging system.
“We will be on the VHF (high-band system) until Dec. 31. That is when the maintenance contract is up. Starting Jan. 1 (2020) we will switch (the entire system) to 800 MHz but we will have that capability prior to the end of the year,‘ he said.
Alworden said other local fire departments have access to 800 MHz in a pinch but mostly still use the high-band system. He said dispatch will have to update its paging equipment to allow for it to be used on the 800 MHz system which is part of the nearly $900,000 new building cost.
Alworden reiterated that the money to build the new facility and make system upgrades is all coming from within his department which includes both state and local surcharge funds and money generated from the sale of the tower located at the old jail. The cost of the new building does not include buying radios and pagers for the local fire departments that have not already upgraded.
While that nearly $900,000 price tag might come with a little sticker shock, it is partly due to the criteria and specifications the actual building must meet.
What that means is the new central dispatch structure has to be able to withstand 200 mph winds as well as requirements for a range of topics, including administrative items, structural design criteria, siting requirements, occupancy and egress requirements, essential features, and test methods for impact and pressure testing.
Basically, the facility must be the last building to fall during a disaster, natural or otherwise, because when it comes to the information for all emergency services it all comes through central dispatch.
While it may be hard to fathom, Alworden said the structure also has to be somewhat resilient when it comes to the possibility of an attack. He said if someone or some organization wanted to harm the usefulness of first responders the 911 center would be the perfect target.
The current location of central dispatch, the old Wexford County jail, doesn’t meet these International Code Council standards but it was grandfathered in. He said regardless of whether the department decided to rent, lease or build a new facility, it would then be held to these ICC standards, which was not something Alworden said he was aware of until he had a conversation with the Wexford County Building Department.
He said it was only a matter of time before central dispatch would have had to leave the old jail. Currently, Alworden said dispatch utilizes an 11-foot by 8-foot room in the entire old jail. He has set up his office in the sheriff’s old office. Wexford County Emergency Management Coordinator Travis Baker is set up in the undersheriff’s old office.
At the new facility, there will be four dispatcher terminals, but only three will be ready for service. Two will be for the normal dispatchers’ shift while the third terminal will be used if there is a need for an additional dispatcher.
Alworden said the fourth terminal could be used if Wexford County ever shared dispatch services with another county. He also said there is room to add two more terminals bringing the total up to six.
“We are planning for the future. We are not currently in talks with other counties, but at some point, we will be actively seeking out another county to partner with,‘ Alworden said. “An equal share partner.‘
While dispatch has been getting the most focus, the new building also will be home to Wexford County Emergency Management. Dispatcher and Wexford County Emergency Management Coordinator Travis Baker said the new building will house his office as well as the Emergency Operations Center. Currently, when needed the Emergency Operations Center is housed in the basement of the Cadillac Michigan State Police Post.
“I’m excited for it. I’m ready to have an actual center now,‘ Baker said. “I will have my main office on the main floor but the Emergency Operation Center will be in the basement.‘