New UI Dispatch Center nearly complete


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Tapping at a computer screen in a University of Iowa police car, Dave Visin points to stars scattered around a digital map — each indicating locations of officers across Johnson County.

"To know what's happening in one part of the city that's not really close to campus really benefits us," said Visin, associate director of UI police.

Officials are nearly complete with renovations to the UI Dispatch Center — located in the University Capitol Centre — to make it a backup for the new Joint Emergency Communications Center, which merges Iowa City and Johnson County emergency services.

The joint center opened in late June, resulting in all 911 calls going to the same dispatch location from across the county — except for the UI campus.

Now, along with renovations to create the backup center, UI police are operating on the same radio system as all agencies in the county, increasing communication.

"It really helps us out and allows us to do our job well," Visin said.

Johnson County officials decided to make the UI Dispatch Center a backup for several reasons, including that it is in a good location, is in a secure building, has room to grow, and is fairly cost-effective because most of the technology was already in place.

Once complete, if a catastrophe knocks out the county's communications center — phone lines were cut or employees had to evacuate, for example — the UI facility will be able to run everything from the campus location.

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"We're talking an apocalypse level," said Tom Jones, the executive director of the communications center. "We're really going way out there."

The major parts of the renovation are set to be finished this month, though it won't be officially complete for another three months.

The cost for the project is roughly $310,686 and shared between the UI Dispatch Center and the joint communications center. Additional computer and radio equipment for the 911 system may come in the next few months, Jones said.

Visin said radio, computers, and phone upgrades are the three biggest components of the technology revamping — which is approximately 75 percent complete.

The new 911 radio system will allow the UI Dispatch Center to better communicate and view calls in Johnson County.

An additional room, now empty, will also be equipped and ready for an emergency for the county dispatchers to use.

Johnson County Supervisor Pat Harney said he was happy with the UI location.

"The [communications] facility is designed in such a matter that storms certainly aren't going to destroy it … it's secure and dry," Harney said.

The UI Dispatch Center has three consoles, each equipped with four computers and five major pieces of software. The additional room for potentially relocated county dispatchers will only have three computers that do the same amount of work.

The extra room for unexpected relocation is an important option to have, Jones said.

"If there happen to be any failures … or any other communication work where we weren't operating at all, we'd have a separate place to go," he said.

Having a backup center is not uncommon, and it's something officials in Johnson County have discussed for years.

Linn County does not have a center similar to the collaborative effort in Johnson County, but if an individual system were to go down, there are two empty stations in which forces could use, said Capt. David Knott of the Linn County Sheriff's Office.

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