Tax Payer Dollars Goes to 911 Call Center's New Facility

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COLUMBIA - The man in charge of emergency calls for Boone County says a planned 911 center is needed to house all the new employees who are being added to keep up with demand.

Joe Piper said, "We've outgrown the space now, and then obviously, if we expand our staff in terms of call takers and dispatchers, we'll have to have additional space."

Piper, who is operations manager for Public Safety Joint Communications, said "We don't have adequate space for storage, we don't have adequate space for training, employees, either as a new employee or continuing education for employees."

The PSJC has struggled to keep up with the demands created by population growth in Boone County, he said, as well as rapidly changing technology. Increased use of cell phones has resulted in significantly greater call volume and has become too overwhelming for call takers, Piper said.

The Columbia PSJC is currently below national standards with an average of just 85% of calls being answered within 15 seconds, according to a recent report. National standards require staffing at levels that ensure 95% of emergency calls fit that time frame.

According to data from the National Fire Protection Association, 169 calls in Columbia and Boone County in July took 40 seconds or more to answer. 71 emergency calls went unanswered.

There is currently only one 911 operator at any time for all 163,000 citizens of Boone County and its municipalities. There is no emergency operations director or staff.

In July, the Boone County Commission passed an order creating five additional emergency operator positions for PSJC to expand and improve services as part of it's transition from the City of Columbia to Boone County government.

A new sales tax approved by voters in April will fund the salaries of the new Boone County operators, new equipment and software. It will also pay off bonds issued for the construction of a new facility.

The tax is anticipated to produce $2.32 million in the fourth quarter of this year and roughly $9.3 million in 2014.

The cost of the new employee positions from August 1 through December 31 will be $110,316. The annual cost, starting in 2014, will be $261.022.

The new 20,000-square-foot facility will cost approximately $11.3 million and the new equipment will cost about $8.65 million. $4.4 million will go toward personnel costs when the department transfers over to the county's control.

"The joint communications center needs to have a high level of security and the building has to be built better than the average building," commercial broker and salesperson Rob Duncan said. "In order to go in and retrofit a building to that would cost way more than it would to build from the ground up."

The current facility is not built to properly handle disaster or other emergency.

"The new facility will encompass not only the 911 dispatch agency or joint communications but also going to be co-located with the office of emergency management and would have an emergency operations center," Piper said. "This is a very specialized facility, it's a technology facility.

Boone County expects the new 911 and Emergency Management facility will be completed and open by the end of 2015.