New 9-1-1 Communications Center consolidates emergency services for Natchitoches Parish

The effort to build a consolidated 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center for the Natchitoches Parish Communications District began in earnest on October 13, 2009 when the Commission received a feasibility study for the development of a combined dispatch facility for the Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Natchitoches City Police and Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Services.

While construction of the building is complete, there are other items that need to be finished before the Center is fully operational. 9-1-1 Executive Director Willis Carter said the goal is to start moving dispatchers in around late spring.

The Center itself is an integral part of the infrastructure for Natchitoches Parish. Carter explains that the most efficient way to gets calls in and out, and dispatch services to the citizens is to have everyone coordinated.

“The benefit of this is that we’ll be able to create a deployment system that brings all the dispatch services together under one roof,” he said. “Our intent is to be consistent in everything that we do, from our policies and procedures to our management.”

A retired Assistant Fire Chief from Shreveport with over 37 years of experience and a passion for public safety, Carter was introduced to Natchitoches while he was consulting for the company performing the feasibility study. Although he grew up nearby in Gibsland, he first came to Natchitoches 8 years ago after he had the opportunity to throw his hat in the ring for the director position. The rest is history.

“I saw what they were trying to do and I wanted to support it,” he said. “I still miss riding the fire truck, but I love what I have done for the past 30 years in the field of emergency communications. We’ve made tremendous progress, but it’s taken the support of the board and many others to make this new Center a reality.”

There wasn’t money laying around to build such a state-of-the-art Communications Center. Through luck and perseverance, and the support of Natchitoches Parish legislators, the District received Capital Outlay funding for the $3 million project. The state agreed to pay a maximum of $2.9 million, which left the District with approximately $800,000. The District receives its funding through telephone surcharges, which generates approximately $500,000 annually.

The District’s two employees, Carter and Communications District Address Coordinator Bernice Wallace, have offices in the building, as do the NPSO Homeland Security and Office of Emergency Preparedness Assistant Director Mary Jones and her assistant Deputy Lamarr McGaskey.

The heart of this 8,500 sq. ft. building is the NAT-COM Control Room. Offices on the side of the Control Room will house NPSO Chief of Communications LaQuita Collins and NPD Dispatch Supervisor Christine Stackhouse. The main space has specialized work consoles for 8 dispatchers per shift (when the Center is fully staffed). There are currently about 20 dispatchers in total employed between the Sheriff’s Office and City Police. This leaves room for expansion and the addition of dispatchers for 9-1-1 call taking and Fire/EMS dispatching.

These workstations are manned 365 days a year, 24-hours a day. Dispatchers handle 9-1-1 calls within a 1.5 minute time frame. The most important, and sometimes the hardest, part of the job is managing the available resources in order to deploy them to an incident accurately.

Acoustical paneling on the walls and floor, adjustable lighting, adjustable desk consoles, environmental HVAC units, and ergonomical chairs designed specifically for dispatchers are a few of the features found in the Control Room. The room itself is built to FEMA Safe Room standards, can withstand 256 mph winds, has 1-foot thick concrete walls and a Critical Operations Power System with a generator and fuel supply for emergencies. The facility itself has bullet proof blast doors at all entries, a high tech security system with gates and ID cards.

“The Communications Center will benefit the people of our Parish,” said Collins. “With all the emergency services co-located in one facility, everything is centralized and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. This is also a great opportunity for all the agencies involved.”

Once the new Center is operational, the dispatch operations will be integrated into a new software being used by the Sheriff’s Office, Detention Center, City Police and Corrections Divisions. Think of it like a spider’s web. Any agency with access to the system can pull one string in the web and see all its connections. All the information from the point of the 9-1-1 call, through the court hearings is catalogued and accessible to create a more efficient criminal justice system.

Natchitoches is the first Parish to go live with the installation of this new software.

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