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Mecklenburg County put years into development of 911 emergency calling

SoVaNow.com / April 24, 2019
At Tuesday night’s banquet honoring members of Mecklenburg County’s 911 Call Center, County Administrator Wayne Carter recounted the history of a department which has been described as the fourth leg of the county’s first response team, along with police, fire and EMS.

The Mecklenburg County Emergency Communications Center first went live in April 1996.

Before the 911 system was implemented, each town had dispatchers who worked at the local police departments. The Sheriff’s Office also had its own dispatchers located at the jail in Boydton.

Depending on where you lived, you would call that police department any time you had an emergency and needed police, fire or rescue. These dispatchers were only capable of dispatching their respective agencies, so if you lived in Chase City’s district, but called Clarksville, Clarksville would then have to call over to Chase City Police Department and inform them of the need to respond to an emergency at your residence.

In July 1990, the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors discussed 911 for the first time. The board adopted a $1.45 fee per landline to help with funding for the system. It was a slow process to raise the needed funds, according to Carter.

Also in the 1990s, Mecklenburg County did not have a road numbering system or road names, so each local fire chief was tasked with naming the roads in their districts, while the county assumed the job of designing a a numbering system to number all of the houses on the newly named roads.

They decided to use a mile marker system. The system would be 1,000 numbers per mile, south to north and west to east. The left side of the road would be odd numbers and the right side even numbers.

A public hearing was held in 1992 so that the citizens could voice any concerns or opinions on the newly named roads. Carter said that no one showed up to the meeting, and it wasn’t until about a year later when the county sent out all of the house numbers that they started to receive complaints from citizens about the names given to the roads. This prompted the county to rename several roads.

There was also an issue with citizens that lived in the Epps Fork area on the lake, according to Carter. The people living there had North Carolina telephone exchanges, even though they lived in Virginia, This forced them to pay long distance charges “each time they called their local Virginia police department to get help for whatever emergency they may have had,” said Carter.

In 1993 the county realized that they had a problem. The $1.45 tax initially approved was not enough to fund the 911 system. It was running out of money. They were looking at four different PSAPS in the county, or public safety answering points. Clarksville, Chase City, South Hill and the Sheriff’s Office in Boydton would all need the equipment installed to implement 911. Some of the police chiefs also told the county that 911 would result in more calls for service, which would increase the need for dispatchers.

The police chiefs and sheriff at the time did not feel this was the way to go. They did not want to give up the control that they each felt they held by having the dispatch location at their respective departments. The dispatchers at each of the departments worked for that police department or the sheriff. Therefore, relinquishing that power was a big deal to them at the time.

Carter said Jimmy Crowder, South Hill Fire chief at the time, was the most vocal advocate for consolidating all dispatchers in one location, creating one PSAP. Moreover, he believed it should not be located at a police department. Instead he called for it to be a separate agency run by the county. Thus no one locale would be favored over any other.

The first 911 advisory committee was formed in 1994 comprised of two representatives from the fire departments, two from rescue squads and two from law enforcement. Along with Carter, the committee was formed to create the job descriptions and find a director to lead the center. They also determined that the center would be centrally located in the county which is where it still resides in Boydton.

The 911 center went live on April 1, 1996, but they didn’t officially make the full switch until April 15. In the two weeks in between, the center was staffed and all calls from the police departments were forwarded to the new 911 center.

Carter said he and other members would go out into the county to different locations and make 911 phone calls from residences to make sure everything was working correctly. The new staff, along with Carter, made map books for all of the emergency services in the county. The map books were a way to help fire, EMS and law enforcement locate the newly named roads and find residences with the newly implemented numbering system.

With the system now live and operating out of one centralized PSAP, Mecklenburg County now had a 911 system that was over six years in the making. A lot of time and hard work was put in by members of the community to make this happen.

Over the years, Carter said, the 911 has evolved to keep up with changing technology. The most recent upgrades include new digital radio systems as well as improvements to the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system.

Carter said that it is a necessity to be able to make these upgrades and changes so that the dispatchers have the proper tools available and are able to provide the community and the first responders in Mecklenburg County with up-to-date resources.

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