The new Dakota Communications Center will consolidate five centers and have state-of-the-art technology.
Dakota County's new 911 dispatch center will consolidate five existing dispatch centers into one building equipped with the latest in radio and communications equipment, allowing it to respond to 400,000 calls a year.
It's a joint venture with 11 cities that will eventually save millions, county officials say. Eight to 16 dispatchers on duty will handle about 1,100 calls a day for police, fire and emergency medical service. The center, which is south of Rosemount in Empire Township, is holding a dedication ceremony and open house on Saturday.
The executive director of the center, Kent Therkelsen, recently fielded questions.
Q Why was the Dakota Communications Center built now?
A County leaders began studying a new dispatching system in earnest in 1997 after state legislators set up the Metropolitan Radio Board. That meant that Isanti and Chisago and the seven metro counties had to start planning how they would connect to a new 800 megahertz regional radio system.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, being connected to other agency dispatch systems became more important and federal grants were offered as incentives.
So far Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Carver counties use the new regional system and can talk to and back up each other. Dakota will join them in December, when the new center starts operating.
Q What's new?
A The center will be able to call in volunteer firefighters county-wide, which didn't happen before. It will also be able to give callers with medical needs some care instructions before paramedics arrive. That is now done only in Burnsville. The center, which has about 6 miles of phone, radio and computer cables below its floor, is also equipped for the next generation of Internet-based 911 service. A new 300-foot transmission tower was built next to the center, which also uses eight other towers around the county.
Q How many calls can the center handle?
A It will handle more than 400,000 calls a year to start. The 800 megahertz regional system it uses is the same one that Hennepin County used, without any call capacity problem, to handle the I-35W Bridge collapse.
If the center was incapacitated, its calls could be transferred to neighboring counties on the system. The center has 23 work stations, each with six computer screens, to be staffed around the clock by 52 dispatchers and six supervisors.
A The county estimates that not installing the 800 megahertz equipment in the other centers saved $3.8 million. Trimming five dispatchers and other operational cost reductions are expected to save another $2.4 million in the first three years.
Q What did the facility cost, and how was it financed?
A The county paid $7.8 million to build the center and leases it to the Dakota Communications Center, a legal entity that will assess its 12 user members to repay the county and cover $7.3 million in revenue bonds sold to pay for equipment and other startup costs.
The county owned the center site, next to its transportation building, and is providing a $3.5 million subsidy to defray operating costs in the first four years.
Q Who governs and pays for the center?