Washington County's new 911 communications center went into action Tuesday, replacing 15-year-old equipment and a cramped "dungeon" room in the Law Enforcement Center basement.

The center was one of the first new spaces to open in Washington County's $59.6 million expansion of the government center campus in Stillwater. Dispatchers handle 911 calls for 230,000 residents and direct the traffic of 14 fire companies, 10 law enforcement agencies and seven ambulance services.

Chief Deputy Mike Johnson said that the transition, led by Capt. Steve Pott, succeeded without any interruption in service.

"This is, like, amazing," said dispatcher Jennifer Peltier as information percolated onto an array of colorful screens in front of her. The public should notice more efficiency because the new communications system is quicker and more seamless in transmitting information to police, medics and firefighters, she said.

Washington County installed new 911 telephones to replace aging equipment and a new computer-aided dispatch system that includes improved records management. The call center also has a new metrowide 800-megahertz radio system that has eliminated dead spots around Hugo, Afton and a few other locations in Washington County.

For several hours Tuesday, the county operated both the old and new call centers until it was determined that all the new equipment was working properly, said Sheriff Bill Hutton.

The new space, on the third floor, has tornado-resistant windows on the north and east sides. Hutton joked at the morning county board meeting that a dispatcher on the overnight shift remarked at the wonder of seeing the sun rise. Because the old 911 center had no windows, dispatchers couldn't see changes in weather that led to calls in service.

The new space, six times bigger, also helps eliminate ergonomic injuries for dispatchers who work 10-hour shifts.

Peltier could move the computers on her digital workstation for distance and height and adjust the temperature around her with a flip of a switch.

"Being that we sit for a long time, being comfortable is important," she said.

Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432