County leaders break ground on new 911 consolidated center

Design Graphic Provided by Charleston County

By Natalie Caula

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Tuesday's rain couldn't stop Charleston County leaders from officially breaking ground on the new 911 Consolidated Dispatch Center.

The facility will be located on 8500 Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston and will be about 38,000 square feet. It will house most of the Lowcountry's dispatch centers.

The county first consolidated back in 2009 when the dispatchers for the cities and towns moved into the Lonnie Hamilton building on Bridgeview in North Charleston. Since then, county leaders have been working on plans to build a new facility for all the dispatchers, including the municipalities that have signed up but have not physically moved in yet--James Island Fire District, Isle of Palms and the City of Charleston.

Bumps in the road

It hasn't been smooth sailing since the 2009 consolidation. Last month Folly Beach town council members voted to pull out of the center. They cited several issues -- the dispatchers' unfamiliarity with their area and communication problems with non-emergency calls.

Despite the decision to remove themselves, Charleston County Council chairman Teddie Pryor says he's confident in the center.

"It's not something that will happen overnight," Pryor said. "Once it develops, folks will see us in a way that will save the citizens money and I think everybody will get on board."

North Charleston was one of the first municipalities to jump on board the consolidation. Chief of Police Jon Zumalt says the center has improved response times with police, fire and EMS.

"911 calls were being transferred. We had nine dispatch centers in the county. It wasn't efficient," Chief Zumalt said.

According to the Consolidated Dispatch Center's records, 900,000 phone calls and more than 395,000 incidents were processed last year during the time of transition. In 2009 there were nine agencies consolidated. By 2010 six other agencies had requested an early transition into the center, including the Town of Folly Beach.

"I think we'll have some glitches to work through, but at the end of the day this will be a great advancement to all of Charleston County," North Charleston Keith Summey said.

New building, new technology

The Consolidated Dispatch Center's director Jim Lake says the new building will be equipped with state of the art equipment. Lake says they are considering new phone technology which would allow emergency calls to come in via text messages and video. He says they are also looking into a "video wall" which would allow monitoring throughout the county, tapping into the increasing number of video cameras.

"Department of Transportation (DOT) has cameras on roadways and many schools now have cameras. This technology, which many are using around the country, would allow us to tap into those cameras," Lake said.

The new center is expected to be completed by April or May of 2013. The City of Charleston, Isle of Palms, and James Island Fire District would move into the new building in early 2014.