09/22/11 — Plans in place for new 911 center

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Plans in place for new 911 center

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 22, 2011 1:46 PM

Construction of a new $2 million Wayne County telecommunications center would not only meet the county's 911 needs for the next 40 years, but would also provide a better and more secure location to store backups of the county's data.

That was the argument put forth Tuesday morning by Wayne County Manager Lee Smith, who added that growth in the county's population as well as a steady increase in the number of 911 calls are driving the need for a new center.

After a few questions, county commissioners authorized Smith to seek requests for proposals for the project.

Bids could be taken by March of next year with construction starting the following December, using the design-build approach in which a team will provide the design and construction for the approximately 9,000-square-foot-building that will be built on county-owned property.

The project will also include additional fiber optic cable to add redundancy to the system. Also, for the first time the county will have a facility to store backups of all its vital data, Smith said.

The exiting 911 center in the Jeffreys Building would be converted into a live backup 911 center, Smith said, something the county currently does not have.

"All we are asking is for a requests for proposals to get pricing," Smith said.

Commissioner Jack Best made the motion to proceed, but Commissioner Steve Keen asked him to specify what was being proceeded on.

It is just to get prices that will be brought back to the board, Smith said.

There is a bit of a rush for the project -- Smith is concerned that the county needs to act quickly or possibly lose access to $1.1 million in 911 fee revenues currently held by the state.

"We have available to use and we have to designate and use the majority by June of next year because the rules are changing by the state so it is a use it or lose it deal. There is $1.2 million available to use that we can use for this facility. Local funds would take about $823,000. I hope to get it cheaper, but I think this is a good number," Smith told commissioners.

The local money is already in the budget, Smith said.

One reason the county is having problems getting 911 money is because the existing center does not meet state standards, he said.

"If I don't met the standards, I am not going to get the money and that is what I am afraid of," Smith said.

The new facility will be built to post-Katrina national standards, he pointed out. During that hurricane, emergency operations and 911 centers were destroyed and there were no backups, Smith said.

"You look at New Orleans they had no 911 centers for months. They had to go to makeshift," he said.

Best asked if the new building would be built to withstand such natural disasters.

It will be a strengthened structure, but won't be bomb proof, Smith said.

When Hurricane Irene ripped up the membrane roof on the Jeffreys Building it narrowly missed taking out the microwave antenna that was the connection to the radio system.

"Had it taken that microwave out, which is line of sight, we would have two phone lines and we could potentiality have lost the radio system from that," Smith said. "You would have probably lost 80 percent of your capabilities from that."

Another issue is the fiber network, he said. The network includes the county's downtown buildings all the way to the Sheriff's Office Annex on U.S. 117, the library and the animal control building. There are vulnerability points in the lines because of some of the distances involved, Smith said.

Smith said that the county has been keeping trees trimmed back from the line and that Wayne fared well during Irene.

"So the fiber system is not underground?" Best said.

"It is hanging on wires," Smith said. "We looked at underground. It was next to impossible to get to all of these buildings. It was millions of dollars. We were going to have to tear up city streets. Had we had a water or sewer project or other telecommunications project that we could have tailgated with and moved along we could have done it.

"But it was just totally cost prohibitive. I think we hung a lot of the fiber for less than $200,000 to get that done and about 75 percent of that was done with an E-grant from North Carolina."

The backup center in the Jeffreys Building would be "hot" or online -- something that the county does not now have, he said.

Smith noted that the bulk of the county's offices are located in the courthouse and immediate area including the tax office, financing, information technology and others.

"In other words if you lose the courthouse you lose all of that," he said. "When the courthouse burned in Pittsboro they lost everything. They had all of their IT (information technology) and record in one building."

The county does have some backup, but lacks a secure site because the lines are not there to provide fast enough back up overnight, he said.

"If the building was taken out we would lose our tax system, finance system our payroll system," he said. "We would lose it all because there is no place else to sit it up.

"We are looking to have a full backup of all data including 911 in that center because we cannot do it at the Jeffreys Building. First of all Homeland Security said they (Jeffreys building and courthouse) are too close. My other big problem is that it is too crowded."

Consoles at the Jeffreys Building are overheating and duct work is running on the floor in an effort to cool the equipment, he said.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen questioned Smith about using the "cloud" or online storage.

"If we have a tornado the backups are out in California," she said.

Smith said that the county first needs local backups before moving to the cloud system.

"I think that is coming, but I don't think that we are there yet," he said. "I don't even have good local backup. That is my problem. You have got to have a good local backup first."