Dispatching from a new base Itasca County Dispatch is now operating out of the airport terminal

By Lisa Rosemore, Herald-Review

Reprinted with permission.

The switch-over started at 3 a.m. Tuesday morning [Feb. 16], but residents of Itasca County did not notice a thing.

After years of planning, and nearly a year of remodeling a vacant building, the Itasca County Dispatch Center has officially moved from the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office to the Grand Rapids-Itasca County Airport.

It went fantastic, a tired but happy Mark Lallak, coordinator of dispatch services for the sheriff’s office, said late Tuesday morning.

The official switch-over started with taking the five 911 trunks from the old center at the sheriff’s office and switching them to new trunks at the airport. Lallak explained that once that was done, tests were run to make sure the 911 lines were up and operational.

The 911 switch-over went off without a hitch, he said.

At 3:45 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than planned, the non-emergency or administrative lines were switched over to the new center. Lallak said that took about five minutes.

“At 4:09 a.m., we were a live dispatch center,” Lallak said.

Changing technology was a driving force behind revamping and upgrading the county’s dispatch center. Lallak said in an interview last year that both the center’s radio consoles and 911 phone system were coming to the end of their lives.

The Enhanced 911 phone system lasted 17 years without a hitch, Lallak said Monday while discussing the technological changes. The Motorola radio system was also state of the art 17 years ago. The new center has a digital, state of the art radio system and the new, state of the art 911 system is the Next Generation 911 system.

“Next Gen 911” is the standard now, replacing Enhanced 911, Lallak said. While Next Gen 911 is in its infancy, “it will change the way we deal with communications.”

Next Gen 911 will allow dispatchers to receive texts and videos, he said. “It takes away the gaps” and leaves no breaches.

Utilizing the airport building is about more than moving the dispatch center to a secure location with room to grow.

Lallak explained that the building, which has more or less been dormant since 1998, is being used as a training center and meeting area, with approximately three training sessions for various government agencies, such as the Minnesota Department of Resources, being held a week. A room in the terminal building is also being outfitted for use as an interview room for juvenile victims of sexual assaults and other violent crimes. The room will be available for all local law enforcement agencies to use and is expected to be ready for use in about two weeks.

“It’s a real step in the right direction,” said Itasca County Sheriff Vic Williams, explaining that the room will be a welcoming, friendly environment for those young victims.

In addition to upgrading the 911 phone service and radio systems, cameras and security were upgraded for both the courthouse and county offices.

The Honeywell camera systems match the Honeywell Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI) systems already in place, Lallak said, adding that the HVAC systems at the airport were also upgraded. They were able to utilize the county’s IT and MIS departments, “saving thousands with their expertise” and all construction, except for fire safety due to the lack of a local vendor, was local.

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