Cumberland County on Wednesday unveiled its new 911 emergency operations services center at 500 Executive Place.
The county held a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by more than 150 people representing first responders, county staff, local elected officials and residents wanting to see the facility. After the ribbon-cutting, county officials escorted visitors through the facility and out the back where cake and finger food added to the festivities.
In addition to the 911 call center, the building also will house the county's Emergency Services Department, the Fire Marshal's Office, Emergency Management and the Emergency Operations Center.
During her remarks, County Manager Amy Cannon said Hurricane Matthew became the impetus for the county to build the facility. Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, and Commissioner Jimmy Keefe referenced Hurricane Matthew several times when they decided the county needed a better emergency services center.
Keefe said he and Adams reported to the county emergency operations center in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center during Hurricane Matthew. Keefe referred to the center as a dark, dank dungeon, consisting of about 700 square feet; not what a 911 center should look like.
“This is your legacy,’’ he said. “No one cares when you dial 911 who answers the phone.”
“We worked on this a long time,” Keefe said.
Keefe in the past has expressed frustrations over the time it took to construct the facility. He suggested the failed co-location negotiations with the city in May 2018 delayed the county’s construction plans.
Cannon said the emergency operations center lacked windows or any form of natural lighting and that “elements” of the hurricane penetrated the facility. The county emergency operations center has been in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center since it was built in 1974.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused supply chain issues and labor shortages; however, the county and its construction project management team, headed by Assistant County Manager Tracy Jackson, managed to get a “highly complex and technical facility” constructed, Cannon said.
The county budgeted a little more than $16 million for its center. Assistant County Manager Brian Haney said the county expects the project to come in under budget. Additionally, the state 911 Board in August 2019 awarded the county a $2.2 million grant for use in building the communications center.
The renovations on the building started in 2019 after the county and city decided not to merge or co-locate their respective 911 call centers.
The new emergency services center is three times larger. Amenities include a kitchen, sleeping area, media news conference and interview room, large monitors, and ergonomic workstations. The new center also included 15 workstations and five training work sites. Haney said the county’s emergency operations staff is scheduled to occupy the new facility in December.
In August 2019, the Cumberland County 911 system migrated to the state's Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet). With an IP network, emergency call centers and other public safety organizations can relay life-saving information to first responders.
The facility will have next-generation 911 equipment, including a phone system with text-to-911 capability.
“It also will allow for rapid call routing to other 911 centers in the event we had to evacuate the facility,’’ Haney said. The city of Fayetteville’s 911 call center is the designated backup to the county, and the county in turn is the designated fallback should the city’s system become disabled.
“The A/V (audio visual) system has been designed to allow for maximum communication and flexibility, which is integral to emergency management and response,” according to Haney.
The facility has eight separate meeting spaces and more than 25 monitors, including a 2 by 8-foot video wall that is capable of more than 48 different video configurations, according to Haney. Each meeting space will allow users the capability of “casting” their screen or display to nearly any other monitor in the facility.
Three large interactive displays will allow users to take notes and directly edit data from the screen such as maps, he said.
The building previously served as a State Farm Insurance service center and later as a Department of Defense data center with a secured area and vault. The county bought the 17,000-square-foot property in 2018 for $5 million. It sits on approximately 2.7 acres just off Raeford Road.
Stoney Point Fire Chief Freddy Johnson Sr., who serves as president of the Cumberland County Fire Chiefs Association, said the state-of-the-art facility will serve the county well. While he would have liked to see the city and county facilities under one roof, Johnson said the county has done much to enhance abilities to respond to crises and disasters. Johnson pointed to the recently completed fire and rescue facility at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView. He can be reached at email@example.com.