County opens new 911 central dispatch

Chronicle News Service
Greg Chandler

OTTAWA COUNTY -- The county's new central dispatch facility was open only five days when it faced its first big test.

Torrential rains tore through the area the night of June 19, washing out roads and leaving much of Holland flooded. Dispatch officials called in extra help to the new 911 facility, located near the county's administrative complex in Olive Township.

At the height of the storm, all 16 dispatch stations were staffed, handling 1,170 calls in just three hours.

"The phones were ringing off the hook, but we were able to keep up," dispatch supervisor David Gignac said.

The $5.5 million, 16,900-square-foot facility, at Stanton Street and 120th Avenue, is more than three times the size of its predecessor, which was housed in the basement of Grand Haven's public safety building. It also has almost twice as many work stations as the nine in the 5,000-square-foot Sixth Street facility, which had housed 911 operations since 1991.

"What it does is give us the capability of doubling the folks we can put out on the floor," said Tim Smith, executive director of the central dispatch authority.

"We just outgrew the (Grand Haven) facility. This facility should serve the county for the next 30, 50 years, plus."

The authority opened the facility with little fanfare, working out some of the bugs of the new site and new technology that includes geographic information mapping that will allow a dispatcher to visually find the location of a land-line call.

The central dispatch authority started setting aside funds from the countywide 911 millage for the building in 2000, Smith said. The cost of the $3.25 million building and $2.25 million in technology was paid from reserves, funded by a 0.44-mill, 20-year levy that county voters passed in August 2008. year.

"We paid zero percent interest on this," Smith said. "It's a real savings for the taxpayers."

In addition to having more space for dispatchers, the new center includes meeting space, a training facility that can seat almost 50 people, a kitchen, workout room, locker rooms and even a "quiet room," where dispatchers can go to relax after a difficult call, Smith sa

Ottawa's 911 system answered more than 404,000 calls last year, down 4.5 percent from a high of more than 422,000 calls in 2007 but still double the number the center responded to in its first year.

The authority employs 41 workers, including 29 dispatchers and six supervisors -- more than double the 18 employees it had when 911 service began. Smith said there are no immediate plans to hire more dispatchers.

The county will continue to maintain the Grand Haven facility as a backup call center, he said.

Erhardt Construction, of Grand Rapids, was the construction manager, with Landmark Design, also of Grand Rapids, providing architectural design.


How Ottawa County's 911 system has fared between its start in 1991 and 2008:

(1991, 2008)

Number of employees: 18, 41

Work stations: 9, 16*

Number of calls (estimated): 200,000, 404,000+

*Number of stations in new facility