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The dispatch floor of the new Lincoln County Communications Center

The “heartbeat” of Lincoln County has moved to its own facility. Formerly housed in the same building as the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, the Lincoln County Communications Center is now located on Hollis Henderson Drive in Lincolnton.

“This new building gives us much needed space,” William Gibbs, the county communications director, said. “The administrative staff were sharing offices, two in each office. Our people were really close together on the dispatch floor. When you’ve got radios talking, people on the phone talking and all these conversations going on at one time, it all blends together and creates a difficult area to work in.”

Now, each of the administrative staff has their own office, the people who work on the dispatch floor have ample space and separation from co-workers, there’s a separate training room and an upgraded break and kitchen area. 

“The new building is fully furnished with all new personal computers, servers and IT-related equipment,” Gibbs said. “The only equipment we brought over was Duke Power equipment.”

The Lincoln County Communications Center is the warning point for Duke Power McGuire.

Like the Sheriff’s Office, the Communications Center was infiltrated by ransomware. The servers have all been rebuilt and Gibbs said that he’s been informed that steps have been taken to prevent future attacks and there’s better security for the network as a whole.

“As we moved over to our new facility, we abandoned our old telephone system and we’re now on the State ESInet system,” he said. “That’s basically a network across the state of North Carolina that provides an off-site monitoring of our phone systems. Instead of having back room equipment, it’s held off-site, it’s managed by AT&T and gives us functionality for Next Generation 911. We’re not quite to NextGen yet, but we’re one step closer.

According to the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, the State of North Carolina is moving towards implementing Next Generation 911 (NG911). This system will ensure that people are able to access 911 services regardless of their location or the communication technology they use. It will offer improvements in call location technology and in GIS (Geographic Information Services) which will enable the routing of calls based on the caller’s location, rather than the cellular service tower that received the call. The NG911 service provides the ability to:

  • Route 911 calls based on the caller’s location, as opposed to the wireless tower that received the 911 call.
  • Deliver text-to-911 in a reliable way with the same priority as a 911 call.
  • Deliver video-to-911.
  • Provide for 911 call load sharing among public safety answering points (PSAP) during emergencies, so that when a storm overloads one PSAP, a neighboring PSAP can automatically receive overflow calls.
  • Provide accurate, reliable and timely location information for 911 telecommunicators and field responders, especially for wireless and other nomadic 911 callers.

“You can text to 911 now,” Gibbs said. “How it’s delivered will change with NextGen. I feel in the future other components will come available on the state ESInet system.”

The Lincoln County Communications Center was moved over to the new facility on Oct. 16. 

“We now have the luxury of having the admin staff isolated,” Gibbs said. “They don’t have to be on the operations floor. The staff loves it. I’ve had nothing but positive vibes.”

Walking onto the dispatch floor it’s apparent why the 911 center is referred to as the “heartbeat” of the county. While police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians are often referred to as first responders, the 911 operator is really the first responder. They get all of the 911 calls, which can range from something very minor to giving CPR instructions. It can be a very stressful occupation and those who do it, do so for reasons similar to police officers and firefighters – because they want to help people.

Gibbs himself started out as a 911 operator when he was 18 years old so he can relate to what the job is like and why a person would choose to work as a 911 operator.

“It’s not an easy job,” he said. “It’s very stressful, and when you’re hired, because you’re the low person, you go to the night shift because that’s where people start. It’s 12-hour shifts. You can look at that one of two ways, it’s 12 hours so it’s long shifts and you work every other weekend. However, if you want to look on the positive side, you only work half the year based on how our schedule is. I loved it when I did it.”

In doing the job, Gibbs explained, you’re picturing what’s happening on the other end of the line in your head, and you sit back and think, “what if this happens to me?” The ability to separate oneself from the job is important.

“It’s hard to say to forget, but know that you did the best you can to help the situation,” he said. “We are your lifeline until we get you whatever help you need. That’s a big responsibility that a lot of people don’t understand. You may not think that it’s that big of an emergency, but to that person, it is.”

The Lincoln County Communications Center is having an open house on Nov. 14 from 2-4 p.m. The new Communications Center is located at 911 Hollis Henderson Drive in Lincolnton.

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