It was all systems go at noon, Saturday, Dec. 14, as the Delaware County Emergency Communications 911 Center began to evacuate to the undisclosed location of the backup 911 center in Orange Township. In fact, Director Patrick Brandt reported that the annual drill went so smoothly that not one emergency call was missed as staff traveled down U.S. Route 23, dispatching first responders.
Brandt said Delaware County is a partner with the cities of Westerville and Dublin in the Northwest Regional Communication Center.
“Half of the system resides here at our 911 center building,” he said. “The other half, connected through fiber optic cable, resides at a backup data center in Franklin County.”
Brandt said before a backup drill is initiated, Westerville, Dublin, and all first responder agencies in the county are alerted of the drill. He said the drill is initiated when the 911 dispatchers and staff shut down all the phones and computers, make a test call to the system, and then evacuate to the backup center.
“We’ll make a test call before we leave the property to ensure that the rollover is working as designed,” he said. “When that happens, the phone system automatically rolls over the 911 calls to Westerville and Dublin.”
If the drill needs aborting for any reason at any time, Brandt said staff stays behind to reboot the 911 center so as to avoid putting anyone in harm’s way.
“The 911 calls are our primary goal in any situation, because if anything happens, people call 911,” he said.
Brandt said while in transit to the backup facility, the other two centers process the incoming calls, relay the information via radio to the transit group, who then dispatch first responders. He said during that phase, one person drives while another handles radio communication.
“It’s all planned out,” he said. “We can handle the dispatches as we are traveling to the backup 911 center. We have one car doing law enforcement-related stuff, and one car doing the fire and EMS (emergency medical services)-related stuff. We evacuate on the fly, actually dispatching as we travel to the backup center.”
Brandt added staff at the Westerville and Dublin centers are trained to meet Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 5507.
“A facility housing a 911 answering point shall have an emergency operation plan and an evacuation and continue operation plan,” Brandt said, referencing the code. “Both those centers must meet the same training standards we must meet.”
However, Brandt added, “A plan is one thing, but without testing the plan, you have nothing. Our CELA accreditation (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) calls for the backup dispatch center plan and to prove it works.”
Brandt said the day of Dec. 14, while in transit, dispatchers did handle incoming 911 calls.
“The City of Westerville processed two medical emergencies during the event,” he said. “When we got there and the staff had logged in, we had two calls we processed from down there.”
Brandt said the backup center is in Orange Township, so that it is away from the city in case something major happens in the main 911 center like a natural disaster.
“We have to be prepared for the unknown,” he said.
Brandt said the backup 911 center is also used for full staff in-service training, and once a month, a walkthrough is conducted to check the system’s operational condition.
“Training is valuable, and if you’re not going to train on it, you’re not going to learn,” he said.
Brandt admits since being the director, there hasn’t been a situation requiring the evacuation of the 911 center, but there have been a few times when dispatchers have been inundated with calls. He said since he lives closer to the backup center, he has logged in there to help out.
“The last time I went in down there I took over radio communications and let the 911 center process the calls,” he said.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.