Answering the call
Public Safety Complex is the new home for dispatch, responders
By TaMaryn Waters
Democrat staff writer @tamarynwaters on Twitter
Nearly every corner of the new Public Safety Complex is wired for seamless communication among first responders — a key factor when responding to disasters and emergencies from hurricanes to heart attacks.
The new 100,000-squarefoot complex at 911 Easterwood Drive, near the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, represents leaps in technology compared to methods that now seem archaic. On Thursday, more than 300 city, county and state officials, project coordinators, employees and curious residents funneled into the main building for a tour of Tallahassee’s newest hub for handling nearly any emergency.
Times have changed.
In 1961, Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell doubled as the night-time jailer, overseeing up to 200 prisoners and fielding emergency radio calls starting at 10 p.m. or midnight. When duty called, he left his radio behind, after notifying deputies. That left callers with no one else.
Seconds count in times of life or death. Back then, Campbell said the system was like a “string with two cans compared to what we have now.”
The complex is more than just a building. It unifies dispatch for all city and county emergency services, improving response times and efficiencies.
Gone, too, are the days when dispatchers fielded emergency calls from a small 400-square-foot room tucked away at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare, which ran local ambulance services before Leon County took command in December 2003.
“This is something the city, county and the hospital have been talking about for many, many years,” said Warren Jones, chief communications offers at TMH, who was eager to eyeball the joint dispatch center because “that’s where the action is.”
Under one roof, dispatchers from the Sheriff’s Office, city of Tallahassee and Leon County Emergency Medical Services will know in seconds where the nearest ambulance or first responder is located.
“This complex is about saving lives,” said Michele Bono, assistant to the city manager. “If you’re in an emergency, you want the closest available unit to respond to your emergency.”
The $47.5-million complex, which includes two buildings, is five years in the making and funded through the city of Tallahassee and Leon County. Glass-windowed offices inside will be administrative offices occupied by the Tallahassee Fire Department, Leon County Emergency Medical Services and others.
A massive wall holds 28 screens for the city’s Tallahassee Regional Transportation Management Center. Livestreaming videos allow officials to keep an eye on congestion and crashes along a 19-mile stretch of Interstate 10. The Florida Department of Transportation pitched in funding for the freeway management system.
If a tropical storm or hurricane hits Tallahassee, the building is designed to take a punch. It meets U.S. Department of Defense’s anti-terrorism standards and FEMA tornado shelter requirements. It can withstand winds from a Category 3 hurricane or F4 tornado. Glass windows will resist the impact of a 15-foot 2×4 piece of lumber hurled at 100 mph. Between 140-150 employees will work normal business hours in the building, which is already attracting attention from other cities hoping to replicate a similar model. More than 30 employees will be on hand for 24hour staffing. While the building is operational now, employees will transition inside within the next few months. Other features in the energy-conserving building include a data center, training rooms, custom desks that can rise for standing at the touch of a button.
“When you tour this facility,” Leon County Administrator Vince Long said, “you see a state-ofthe- art facility. But there is no way you can possibly see the hours city and county and sheriff employees spent on planning, programming, logistical and operational feats that have taken place.”
The project came in on time and under budget by $680,000, said Jay Smith, vice president of Ajax Building Corp., which spearheaded the project with Construction Support Southeast. During construction, an average of 150 people worked on site every day, officials said.
“This is absolutely an awesome day,” City Manager Anita Favors Thompson told the crowd. “Truly we will be a model for the nation and the background for all of this is the safety of our community.”