By Claire Aiello, Vice President, Marketing & Communications
The new Huntsville Madison County 9-1-1 Center is open and ready for your call, if you ever need emergency help. Hopefully you won’t, but it should give you peace of mind the new center is twice as big to serve our community’s growing population.
“9-1-1 has been live in both places as we made the transition, let me be clear about that,” said Ernie Blair, the Center’s CEO. “Every piece of 9-1-1 technology has been refreshed and updated. This was an opportunity to do that, and I will boldly say you will not find a 9-1-1 center anywhere that’s ahead of us.”
The center has about 200 people on staff altogether, with several dozen on shift at any given time. Under one roof, you’ll find seven agencies working together to respond to calls. There are four 9-1-1 operators, plus the Huntsville Police Department, Huntsville Fire & Rescue, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Madison County Fire Department, Madison Police Department, Madison Fire & Rescue, and HEMSI.
“The center has multiple layers of protection for lightning surges, and the phone and radio systems both now have geo-redundant servers,” said Blair. “If we were to lose the servers that run the radio or telephone system here, it would automatically be taken over in other places, so we have redundancy.”
The Operations Room is the central focus point, because that’s where the action happens. Desks are ergonomic and can be raised from seated to standing positions if employees want to change up their positioning while taking calls. Desks have built-in temperature controls and fans, to help ensure employee comfort.
Blair said he asked employees what other features they wanted in the new center.
Windows were one suggestion, so the new Operations Room has sunlight coming in. Employees also asked for sleeping rooms because sometimes they are there for long periods. Done – there are separate bunk quarters for men and women, and showers.
“It’s important that our employees are comfortable. In extreme situations they could be here for a few days, for example, a severe weather episode, or in winter weather. We want to help provide a good workspace but also a comfortable place where they can rest and recharge,” said Blair.
The employee break area has new food vending, a pellet ice machine and additional refrigerators for the different agencies working there.
“Our employees are wonderful,” said Blair. “It is a higher calling to save that life, to put those pieces together from the call two days ago, to the call today to help police catch the bad guy. They have this opportunity every few days to do that, or to give that fire truck the information to where they need to be, to plug in the fire hydrant and save a family’s home. Very frequently, they get a huge chance to make a difference, and they thrive on that.”
The building has a walking track around the outside. There is also a helicopter pad, and an electrical and water hookup in the parking lot. After the tornado outbreak of April 2011, a barbecue team came and cooked for the 911 Center employees. “We loved having them here, and if that were to happen again, we wanted to make it easier for them,” Blair said.
The 9-1-1 Center is hiring, too. Visit madco911.com to see current job listings.
The Huntsville Madison County 9-1-1 Center recently partnered with the Rocket City Trash Pandas and WAFF 48 for Safety With Sprocket, an educational curriculum designed for children in K-5th grade. The series was shared with schools in September in support of Emergency Preparedness Month. It highlights a variety of ways youngsters learn tips about fire safety, emergency planning, how to be an informative 9-1-1 caller and much more. This interactive series also includes downloadable worksheets, coloring pages and resources for parents to reinforce at-home learning. To learn more, visit madco911.com.
This article appears in the October 2020 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.