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911 center employees on hold for new facility

January 18, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County emergency dispatch operators have called a construction trailer home base since late last year, when renovations began that will add new equipment to the center's South Queen Street facility.

Dispatchers relocated to a trailer parked next to the 911 center in late November, following approval by the Berkeley County Commission last summer to begin work that will add three more work consoles and equip the dispatch center with updated computer and telephone systems, 911 Central Dispatch Director Mary Kackley said from her office this week.

The center currently houses four dispatch stations, Kackley said.

Kackley said the improvements make her think of the last time the center was moved, when the department was small and so were the accommodations.

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"When we moved 12 years ago, the greatest problem was space," Kackley said. "I could literally reach out and touch the second dispatcher sitting next to me."

The center's renovations and equipment upgrades, which were timed to coincide with the purchase of a $2.5 million integrated radio system that will link all of the county's and city of Martinsburg's emergency responders, will cost about $900,000. The Berkeley County Commission approved the last piece of the project, a $500,000 telephone system, about two weeks ago, Kackley said.

The high-frequency wireless radio system, which will include hand-held radios, mobile units for county vehicles and pagers, will be tied into a fixed satellite tower on North Mountain that is part of a statewide radio system based in Harrison County, W.Va.

Kackley said the project is expected to be completed by April.

Renovations to the center are being paid in part from revenue raised from telephone customer 911 fee increases, which amounted to more than $1.66 million through fiscal year 2005, Kackley said.

The Berkeley County Commission approved a monthly fee increase from $1.50 to $2.75 in 2004. Additional revenue for dispatch centers also is provided to West Virginia's counties in the form of cell phone fees, which are collected by the state's Public Service Commission.

Kackley said the new system will require a new way of operating for county dispatchers.

"I've been pushing buttons and talking into a microphone for almost 30 years," Kackley said.

"It's not going to be an easy task and it's not going to be something you're going to be comfortable with within the 24 hours of a training class. But anyone who understands emergency dispatching understands the one thing you cannot teach is experience," she said.

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