Emergency 911 dispatcher Randi Sass works from one of five stations in the new Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center. The electronically controlled ergonomic work stations offer dispatchers the option of working from a standing or seated position.
Photo By Phil Hermanek
As the population of the Kenai Peninsula grows and the number of 911 emergency calls coming in via cell phone increases exponentially, the move of emergency dispatchers to the new, expanded Soldotna Public Safety Communications Center comes at a good time.
The dispatch center, on the upper floor of the new Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Services building on Wilson Lane in Soldotna, is about three times the size of the former dispatch center, which was at the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment headquarters on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
“We have two pods with three workstations each,” said Tammy Goggia, who manages the 14-person dispatch crew that works every hour of every day of the year. Each workstation features electronic controls allowing dispatchers to raise or lower the station so they can work from a standing position or while seated. The workstations also have personal cooling fans and heating panels.
Dispatching for an area of approximately 25,000 square miles, the Soldotna dispatchers serve the troopers as well as the Soldotna Police Department, Central Emergency Services, Nikiski Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services for Ninilchik, Cooper Landing, Bear Creek and Hope, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Alaska Probations and the Department of Corrections, and the U.S. Forest Service.
All 911 phone calls, whether by land line or cellular phone, are answered by the center’s dispatchers, except land line calls made within Kenai city limits. Goggia said today, 45 percent of the 911 call volume is by cell phone.
“It’s not unusual to get 10 to 20 calls on an accident, especially if it’s in a high-profile area,” Goggia said. “We had a fire in Homer that generated 23 calls in minutes.”
She said she believes it is more advantageous than not to have that many calls reporting the same incident because each caller might provide additional information another did not provide.
“It just overwhelms the 911 system,” she said.
When asked about the move away from the troopers headquarters building and into the new center, Goggia said, “It has its benefits and its downside.”
She said being in a completely enclosed, secure building without constant foot traffic in and out of the dispatch center is “a very positive aspect.”
On the other hand, she finds it is important to develop a relationship with the people the dispatchers serve.
When the time comes that a trooper or someone else they know well is involved in an emergency situation, Goggia said dispatchers need a certain fortitude to be able to separate themselves and perform their tasks professionally.
“Our dispatchers are highly trained professional individuals who give their all to the people who call for medical, fire or related police emergencies,” Goggia said. “They are the ones who make it happen.”
The dispatch center occupies 800 square feet of the new 8,400-square-foot building on Wilson.
The building also houses the borough’s Office of Emergency Management and the Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Office.
Goggia said OEM Director Scott Walden, now-retired trooper Capt. Tom Bowman and trooper Maj. Matt Leveque in Anchorage were “most instrumental in making this building happen.” Corporation for National and Community Service
“When Scott came, we had five major incidents happening all about the same time ... the (Augustine) volcano was erupting, the Seward flooding, fires ...” she said. “He just seemed to move right through it.”
Walden said the majority of the approximate $5 million for the Emergency Services Building came through U.S. Department of Justice funding. The remainder came from borough funds, he said.
Besides the dispatch center and office areas, the building also features a central meeting space designed for use as an emergency operations center for staging an incident command post, according to Walden. The central space area also can be used for meetings and training purposes for CES, Soldotna police and amateur HAM radio operators.
The building is self-sustaining with a dual-fuel generator, is built to the highest seismic and security capabilities and is equipped with satellite phones, Walden said.
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