Boise & Garden City

Ada County opens new 911 emergency dispatch center

One of the most striking things about Ada County’s new emergency dispatch center is the multiplicity of screens that ring the walls of the room.

There are 24, 80-inch screens on the wall of the center, which was opened for public tours Thursday.

“Our audio visual equipment can put pretty much anything you want on those screens,” said Janet Mulhern, an Ada County Dispatch supervisor.

She said the screens will display images of everything from front door security cameras to highway district cameras (allows them to see crash sites they’re dispatching officers to). They’ll also be used for trainings in the center.

The new 25,000-square-foot facility cost about $8 million to build, and the equipment/technology in it cost another $7 million, according to a sheriff’s spokesman. It was paid for with 911 fees and property taxes.

The county’s 57 dispatchers won’t move into the building until next week. At a ribbon cutting in the rain Thursday, Ada County Sheriff Stephen Bartlett thanked all county dispatchers, present and past, who have worked for the county.

“Please join me in recognizing this amazing group of men and women, who are truly the first first-responders, that calm voice on the phone when we call for help,” Bartlett said. “Thank you so much for your service, dispatchers.”

The old 1,400-square-foot dispatch center — a room in the basement of the sheriff’s office on Barrister Drive — was built in 1977. At that time, the county had 154,000 residents and 24 emergency dispatchers, who handled only law enforcement calls for service.

“There were no cellphones, no computers. All of our dispatch calls were handled on a dispatch card, handwritten at that time,” Bartlett said.

Today, the dispatch center serves 450,000 county residents, handling about 40,000 calls for service every month (911 and non-emergency calls). The center dispatches for 12 agencies in the county, including police, fire and paramedics.

The new center offers a lot more elbow room, parking and places to meet and decompress. Another perk: Natural light from high windows.

It was six or seven years in the making. Former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney was one of about 75 people who toured the new facility.

“We realized that [the old facility] could not handle any more power,” Raney said. “Part of that was that we couldn’t add an additional air conditioning unit that would cool the data systems.”

The dispatch center on Barrister won’t be dismantled; it will be kept as a backup facility.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller