Denver opens new 911 center due to demand
The communication center’s call volume increased 10% between 2015 and 2018 with 1,103,407 incoming calls in 2018
The Denver Post
DENVER — Denver’s 911 operators celebrated a move Wednesday, trading a cramped room in an old building in Capitol Hill to a new high-tech space with plenty of elbow room in Montbello.
But the expanded space isn’t just about extra room for employees. The new facility allows operators to respond faster to calls through improved technology, said Athena Butler, Denver’s 911 director.
The $25 million project, which is more than eight years in the making, was born out of a need to meet an increased demand for services as Denver grows. The city’s 911 dispatchers, emergency medical services dispatchers and fire dispatchers work there now, and, in a few years, the building also will house the police department’s District 5 headquarters.
The communication center’s call volume increased 10% between 2015 and 2018 with 1,103,407 incoming calls in 2018, according to data provided by Butler. More than half of those calls were 911 emergencies. As of April 30, the center is ahead of its call volume for 2019 when compared to the same period in 2018, she said.
About $2.2 million of the project included upgrades to the communication center’s phone system, which was planned regardless of the new 43,000 square foot facility, Butler said. The city also has implemented a new digital public radio system that enhances regional partnerships.
In 2016, the communications center started receiving texts for service to 911 — about 1,200 texts per year, and in 2017, started using the Smart911 mobile app for service calls.
The facility’s technology is some of the best in the city and exceeds requirements for emergency communication centers across the country, Butler said.
“We are ready for today, but even more so, we are prepared for the future,” she said.
The new communications center is inside a former Convergys call center. The city bought the property after Councilman Chris Herndon had a conversation five years ago with the owner, who said he was struggling to sell it. Herndon said he had the idea to convert it into a police headquarters but then learned about the need for a new 911 center.
“You never know how one random conversation can be that domino effect that starts that,” he said.
The old center at 950 Josephine Street will be used for back-up operations and training, Butler said.
At Wednesday’s tour of the new facility, public safety officials showed off the new building’s perks — expanded work areas, more conference rooms, better lighting and open ceiling space, a larger gym and more areas for dispatchers to take breaks from their stressful work.
“Though unseen by the public, they are strong, caring, compassionate men and women who do their part in the service of others,” Butler said.
A 911 operator’s work is hard and traumatic so they need to be able to take care of themselves throughout their sometimes 12-hour shifts, Butler said.
The old building only had space for 44 employees. The new one is starting out with 53 seats, but there is room to grow, with at least another 10 already planned in the next few years, Butler said.
“We now have a 911 center that is befitting a growing city and ready to meet the challenges of the decades to come,” said Denver Department of Public Safety Executive Director Troy Riggs.
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