SLO dispatch center opens

San Luis Obispo officials beamed Wednesday as they unveiled the city’s new emergency dispatch center behind Fire Station 1 at Santa Barbara and Broad streets.

It is a significant modernization of the current dispatch center, which is in the basement of the San Luis Obispo Police Department on Walnut Street.

The transition from the old to the new center will happen at 3 a.m. on July 14 to allow for training on the new systems.

The need for the upgrade was first noted in 2001 as equipment became obsolete and replacement parts were easier to find on online auction site eBay than in stores.

The new high-tech digital system provides communication between police officers and firefighters with dispatchers.

Extensive radio system improvements at the center will allow broadcast alerts to the city’s four fire stations and transform text into voice messages.

San Luis Obispo dispatchers manage about 35,000 calls for service each year.

The total project cost, which includes a new fire storage facility, radio tower, emergency generator and other site improvements, was about $5.9 million.

“This represents a new era in emergency communication for the city,” police Chief Deborah Linden said. “This is the lifeline for our police and fire personnel and our community members.”

The small, windowless room now used by dispatchers lacks many things — including the ability to adjust workstations to dispatchers’ needs during 12-hour shifts.

Some dispatchers have to put their feet on plywood boxes or their feet would dangle above the ground because their chairs must be adjusted so high to reach the computers, said Kerri Rosenblum, communications manager.

The city has 10 dispatchers, two communication supervisors and a manager who use the workspace. Staffing typically starts at two dispatchers and grows during peak times such as nighttime and weekends.

The new center features adjustable work stations that can even be used while standing. The center also has additional dispatch consoles that can be used on busy nights or during citywide emergencies.

The department first considered upgrading at the Police Department building but found that the costs of doing so outweighed the advantages of building a new center at the Fire Station 1 location.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.