Preparedness through redundancy is a critically important public safety tenet, ensuring uninterrupted 24-hour operations. Every primary system we use here in the Public Safety Building has a back-up system: 9-1-1 phones, computer-aided dispatch (CAD), radios and Canopy infrastructure, electrical power distribution, and dispatch consoles, to name a few. Just as system redundancy is important, so too is facility redundancy. In case of a casualty to this building, we need an off-site back-up dispatch center.
For many years the City of Erie graciously offered space within City Hall to house a back-up dispatch center. Four dispatch consoles were available, yet limited growth potential compelled us to look elsewhere for a long-term solution.
The county-owned Maritime Museum solved our problem. In a corner office on the third floor, we created a 5-console, back-up dispatch center with the same systems and functionality used today in the Public Safety Building. Situated on old wooden tables recycled from the library are computer systems and monitors, 5 screens per table. Each console offers Internet-based Sentinel phone system; digital admin phones; hi-tech, Internet-based, Catalyst radio controller software system; CAD; and, an advanced mapping system. Additionally, the back-up center is connected throughout the county by existing fiber optic cable and to generator power in the event commercial power is disrupted.
The back-up dispatch center is operational today, but not yet “geo-diverse.” Phase II of the build-out involves creating a geographically diverse back-up center; that is, a back-up center independent of the primary center. If the Public Safety Building were to be damaged or destroyed, the back-up must be independent, capable of sustained operations on its own. Recently we installed a separate wide-area network server for the Catalyst radio system at the back-up center and are awaiting a Verizon work order which will allow us, with a single telephone call, to redirect all 9-1-1 phone line trunks to the back-up center.
Day-to-day operations in the primary center involve, on average, 8-10 call-takers and dispatchers. Manning the back-up with only 5 consoles will necessitate a change in operations. Planning ahead we created the necessary emergency procedures in our new Radio Procedures Manuals. These manuals, one each for police and fire, govern and standardize our radio dispatch methods. Depending on the circumstances, the dispatch center will upgrade or downgrade levels of operation for both call-taking and dispatching, effectively triaging calls and restricting radio usage to emergency traffic only.
Lastly, during the current fiscal year we modified system contracts and eliminated unnecessary expenditures, saving over $33,000 so far. I am proud to announce our back-up center was created at a cost of $17,040—paid for via our own cost-saving initiatives.
Redundancy means layered preparedness, systems ready-to-go in the event of an emergency. The Erie County Back-up Dispatch Center is online, ready, and robust. Once again our team of professionals embraced an idea and developed a solution. Well done!