BANGOR – After nearly a year of planning and months of delay, the Penobscot Communication Center finally has settled into its new home on the third floor of the Penobscot County Courthouse on Hammond Street.
After a decade in the cramped, windowless basement of the 3rd District Court building just a few hundred feet away, dispatchers now have windows, high ceilings and eight improved workstations.
“The workspace is as different as night and day,” Jim Ryan, PRCC director, said recently. “Morale is up and we’re excited and glad to be here.
“We did this with very little county money,” he continued.
“The equipment was paid for with Homeland Security money, and the state of Maine paid for the [tower] upgrade and the move.”
Officially, the move was made at 2 a.m. Wednesday, May 9, according to Ryan, but renovations began last summer after the county spent a couple of years figuring out where the updated dispatch center could be relocated.
The larger equipment required for the E-911 system didn’t fit easily in the smaller basement room and left no room for future growth. With four to seven dispatchers on duty at any given time, the new space has room for three additional stations.
The project cost about $350,000, according to Bill Collins, county administrator.
Originally, it was to have been operational last December. Construction delays pushed the move to February and then May.
County residents will benefit from the enhanced emergency, or, E-911, system because when they dial 911, dispatchers see on their computer screens a map indicating where the call is coming from. The phone number and the name of the person under whose name the number is listed also appear.
“The mapping is fabulous,” Ryan told the Penobscot County commissioners the day before the move. “We can do a lot with it.”
In the past, dispatchers have had to ask for directions or use maps in publications such as The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer published by DeLorme, said William “Chip” Briggs, the senior supervisor with PRCC.
“In domestic violence situations, the caller may not be able to really communicate that information to us,” he added.
PRCC was the first regional dispatch center in the state. Today, it is one of 26 around the state and the 10th to complete the E-911 upgrade, according to Al Gervenack, director of the Maine Emergency Services Communication Bureau.
The new system in Bangor includes detailed maps of Penobscot and the adjacent counties. These will be helpful when agencies from a neighboring county are needed to assist at a fire, accident or other emergency, Briggs said.
Updates to the mapping system will be downloaded automatically.
The large flat screens on the walls allow a map from an individual dispatcher’s console to be seen by everyone in the room. That will be particularly helpful during an incident such as a standoff or large brush fire in which many agencies are involved, he explained.
“We also could put on the Weather Channel or the National Weather Service’s Web site during something like the ice storm,” Briggs said.
A hydraulics system allows each dispatcher to independently adjust two levels of each desktop. Fans and lights on the desktops and a heater below allow dispatchers greater flexibility to set their own work conditions, Ryan told the Bangor Daily News last year. The computers and wiring are away from view in the workstations but still easily accessible.
The new system also allows calls coming into the system to be routed to the next available dispatcher rather than ringing at all dispatch workstations.
“The windows are the best improvement,” Briggs said. “We used to spend 10- to 12-hour shifts, sometimes 14 hours a day in a dark, windowless basement. Some who worked the day shift in the winter never saw daylight.”