Vermilion 911 dispatchers settling into new, improved center

DANVILLE – Residents may not notice a difference in calls to the county's 911 system, but the center's dispatchers will.

The new $1 million 911 call center at the Public Safety Building was up and running Thursday after a move from the former location one floor above on Tuesday.

The result: five times more space and upgraded equipment.

"It's a nice facility," said Tommy Withers, a dispatcher who has worked at the call center for 32 years. "It brings us into the 21st century."

The county's 911 call center handles an average of 90,000 emergency calls a year and serves the Danville Police Department, the Vermilion County Sheriff's Office, Danville Fire Department, 14 area fire districts and four ambulance services.

Most of the calls come in between 3 p.m. and 2 a.m., said Director Vic Vanesse.

Dispatchers not only handle calls, they take on administrative duties such as maintaining warrant files and state and federal wanted and stolen files. There are 15 full-time and five part-time dispatchers.

Plans for establishing the new center – paid through telephone fees – have been in the works for the past 18 months, said Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn.

"We've known for a number of years that we needed to have more space for the 911 center, but we were landlocked inside the building," he said.

The former call center was in a small room just off the jail's booking area. Its director's office was packed with file cabinets and its equipment room doubled as a locker room and break room.

Dispatchers' consoles were cramped along a windowless wall, forcing dispatchers to share elbow space and leaving little room between furniture, walls and doors.

The new location is located one floor below and formerly housed the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency, which moved to a new building last year.

Now there are six spacious consoles in the center of the room, with larger screens and more desk space. Adjustable consoles allow a dispatcher the option of standing during a shift, Vanesse said.

The new place also includes a private room for dispatcher training – a process that takes between four months and a year.

Equipment, including back-up power, telephone and computer lines, is housed in its own room and dispatchers now have a separate locker and break room.

"We've come a long way," said Vanesse, who has seen the center grow from a hand-printed operation with 10 people in 1976 to the computerized, enhanced system it is today.

On Tuesday, the center's telephone lines were shut down for nearly five hours as the move was under way. Calls were redirected to a 911 center in Hoopeston during the move.

The call center's former space won't remain empty for long.

Minor renovations to turn it into a courtroom are ready to begin once the spot is cleared, Hartshorn said.

An on-site courtroom can be used for weekend arraignments or with video arraignments, as an alternative to hauling the average 30 to 40 inmates from the public safety building to the Vermilion County Courthouse, Hartshorn said.

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