Emergency Hub Unifies Operations

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.”