Project: Emergency Operations Center/Public Safety Dispatch Building
Public Safety Dispatch has been housed on the second floor of the Police and Courts building since the building was constructed in 1996. In 2002, the City Council approved the establishment of a permanent Emergency Operations Center (EOC) based on the recommendations of the Emergency Management Task Force. The break room that was located adjacent to the dispatch center was converted to the permanent EOC. During EOC activations, such as Hurricane Harvey and the May 7, 2019 flood event, it has proven valuable to have dispatch operations and EOC operations in close proximity to one another for the purpose of coordinating the response efforts.
The current EOC was not initially designed to accommodate the Incident Command System (ICS) structure that the City has adopted to manage significant incidents, which requires organizing the response by functional areas. In 2009, a portion of the dispatch center was converted into a small conference room to be utilized during EOC activations to facilitate separation of EOC staff members by functional area assignment.
The staffing for Public Safety Dispatch has increased over the years to manage increasing call volume. In 2017 alone, eight (8) positions were added to staffing in anticipation of the additional workload due to the nearly 30% growth of the city from annexation. As the front-line staff has grown, the need for administrative staff has also grown, yet the allocated work space has not increased. Public Safety Dispatch conducts training for new hires and holds department meetings in the EOC because there is not adequate space in the dispatch center. When the EOC is not activated, Public Safety Dispatch utilizes the small EOC conference room as an office for the Dispatch Administrative Manager.
The 2015 Facilities Master Plan recommended a separate building for Public Safety Dispatch and the EOC due to the growth of the City, recognizing that there is not adequate space for day-to-day dispatch operations or EOC activations. In January 2019, City Council authorized Federal Engineering, Inc. to complete a comprehensive assessment that focused on public safety. A number of the recommendations provided by Federal Engineering, Inc. further highlighted the need to increase capacity for EOC and Public Safety Dispatch. Federal Engineering’s final report noted that when the EOC is activated, space limitations allows no segregation of operations, logistics and finance, creating barriers to the most efficient communication and operations. Federal Engineering recommended further increases to front-line, administrative and managerial staff in Public Safety Dispatch based on a workload analysis, noting that there is no room for increasing the number of consoles or office spaces necessary to support the growth in workload that the Public Safety Dispatch center is currently experiencing and will continue to experience.
The EOC/Dispatch Building will also provide additional space for training purposes related to emergency management as well as a permanent location for the City’s 311 call center. The 311 initiative came into existence in late 2017 as an identified step to improving customer service encounters with the City and making sure that callers are taken care of in an efficient and effective manner.