LUMBERTON — Hurricane Matthew delayed establishment of the two state-mandated 911 backup centers for Lumberton and Robeson County, but both facilities should be up and running no later than early 2018, according to those overseeing the operations of the current Lumberton and Robeson County 911 communications centers.
According to Bill French, Lumberton’s Emergency Services director, all of the state’s Public Safety Answering Points, more commonly referred to as 911 call centers, were to have established functioning backup call centers by July 1. The state mandated the centers be established several years ago.
Although the backup centers do not have to mirror the existing primary call centers, they must have similar capacity to receive calls and dispatch units in emergencies, French said.
Lumberton’s backup center, which French hopes will be operable by November or December, is being established at the Eastside Resource Center at 1608 E. Fifth St. Until the property was damaged by Hurricane Matthew, the center was to have been located at the City’s Electric Utilities Department on Halsey Street.
The cost of equipment and retrofitting a building to meet the needs of a backup call center is an expensive venture, especially when the facility may never be used except for occasional operation to ensure that all equipment is operating properly.
During a meeting of the City Council on Wednesday, council members approved French’s $334,000 budget request for the total project. Of that total, $245,000 will come from Lumberton’s allocation of state 911 funds, with the remainder coming from the City’s General Fund.
French said that state 911 funds are allocated to call centers based on a formula, which is always changing, based on such factors as the size of the center and its call volume. In 2016, Lumberton’s center handled 55,000 calls.
“In October of last year, which included Hurricane Matthew, the number of calls was 7,908, French said. “I was so proud of my fellow communication workers who handled Matthew and all of the large call volumes related to the storm. Some had to work overtime and they did their job without complaining.”
While work on Lumberton’s backup center is moving forward, the establishment of Robeson County’s center is also under way.
Robeson County’s backup center will be in the old postal encoding building at 300 Commerce Drive in Lumberton, according to the county’s communications director, Jimmy Williamson. Williamson said Friday that other sites had been considered, including the former BB&T building and the current county Veterans Services building, both in downtown Lumberton.
Williamson said that he is not certain how much the facility will cost to renovate and equip, but it will most likely exceed the cost being spent on the Lumberton center.
“We serve five small towns plus the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department, ” said Williamson. “In 2016 we handled more than 100,000 calls, These are calls we dispatched for law enforcement, EMS and the county’s more than 30 fire departments. This number does not include other 911 calls we received.”
Williamson said it’s a good idea to have a backup center in case the current communications center on Legend Road, next to the Sheriff’s Office, should happen to go down.
“But we hope we never have to use it,” he said.
Plans are for the county backup center to be up and running by early 2018, Williamson said.
Originally there had been discussions between Lumberton and the county about sharing a backup center, but according to both French and Williamson it was eventually determined that it would be more economically feasible and operationally efficient if two separate centers were established.
“Ultimately we decided we should seek our own solutions,” said French. “Shared costs would be large.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.