When Boone County dedicates its new Emergency Communication Center on Sept. 11 — an apt date for dedicating a 911 call center — it will mark almost four years since a blue ribbon panel began discussing whether the county should take over 911 and emergency management services from the city of Columbia.
The 911 center currently is located at 17 N. Seventh St. but will move to the $18 million Emergency Communication Center on the Boone County Sheriff’s Department campus at 2121 County Drive in late summer or early fall. The building is expected to cost $10 million, with another $8 million estimated for the technology inside the operation. The building has multiple redundant systems for water, electricity and other services, meaning if one system is damaged or becomes inoperable during an emergency, there will be a back up system.
The building is designed to withstand 250 mph winds and other natural disasters.
Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said June 8 was the target for “substantial completion” of the new 911 center. At least two months of “punch list” work afterward will be necessary to get technology installed, connected and operating, she said.
In the meantime, Boone County Joint Communications has been filling additional positions and training new 911 call-takers and dispatchers. Assistant Director Joe Piper said the department’s budget calls for 49 emergency telecommunicators. And because current staff will also be learning a new system that will be in place at the new 911 center, Piper said they will need additional training. Both locations — the new building and the downtown 911 call center — simultaneously will operate during the transition.
“We want to make sure they’re well-trained before we flip the switch,” Miller said.
The building also will house the Office of Emergency Management, with Director Terry Cassil and his staff moving in this summer. Cassil most recently served as chief of operations and response branch manager for the State Emergency Management Agency. He retired as assistant chief of the Columbia Fire Department after 21 years as a firefighter.
Cassil was hired last fall along with Joint Communications Director Chad Martin, a 19-year employee of the sheriff’s department. Before joining the sheriff’s department, Martin was a dispatcher for Columbia/Boone County Joint Communications for five years.
Boone County voters approved a three-eighths-cent sales tax in April 2013 to pay for the new building and fund ongoing operations.
Local 911 and emergency management service began in 1977 as a cooperative arrangement between the city of Columbia and user agencies, which initially were fire and police departments. Ambulance services and others were added later.
By 2012, the city was absorbing most of the operational costs and looked for ways to share expenses. The county also began considering taking over the service, and Presiding Commission Dan Atwill appointed the blue ribbon panel to explore that and other questions.
The panel’s recommendations in January 2013 included asking voters for a dedicated sales tax for 911 service and to build a new facility, replacing outdated equipment and creating an advisory board to oversee the new county department.
The county took over operational control of the city-managed 911 center on Jan. 1, 2015, and all 911 employees transitioned to county employment under a plan that kept most of their city employment benefits intact.