The emergency dispatch center at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department on 22nd Street switched its lights off Thursday for the first time in the 46 years.
The Sheriff’s Department formally switched all 911 calls from its 22nd Street office to the new dispatch center at Castle Airport at 12:20 p.m. Thursday. The new center was one part of a multimillion-dollar project combining 911 dispatch and the Merced County Office of Emergency Services.
Emergency 911 calls in Merced County have been dispatched in different areas of the Sheriff’s Department’s 22nd Street office continuously since 1968. But over the past nearly five decades, new technologies and increasing workloads forced dispatchers to look for a new home.
“It’s a spot that we probably outgrew that area more than a decade ago. It’s long overdue,” Sheriff Tom Cavallero said Thursday.
Capt. B.J. Jones said the state-of-the-art dispatch center has been in the works since at least 2003. “This has been long overdue for the dispatchers,” Jones said Thursday. “These people really are the most unsung – anybody in the county who has an emergency, it all comes through these first. They take the brunt of every response.”
The department employs about 12 people as emergency dispatchers, typically with three or four operators working at once. The space was converted from an empty office that was never intended to be a dispatch center, frequently experiencing electrical overload issues.
The Board of Supervisors first approved funding for the new dispatch and the county’s emergency operations center in late 2013. The project’s total price tag for the new dispatch center and county emergency operations comes to about $3.9 million.
Dispatchers said they were excited for the transition to the new facility. “I’m impressed with it all,” said Melissa Warnke, a dispatcher with 11 years’ experience, “and I don’t like change.”
Dispatcher Marci Goins said the new phone and computers systems will take at least some of the strain out of their difficult and stressful job. “There are a lot more capabilities with the new phone system, it’s completely different,” Goins said. “That will help and I’m excited because it’s much nicer there, too.”
While operations at the new Castle center took off Thursday, a formal grand opening is in the works for late September.