Managing a local crisis should be a bit more efficient for officials and responders in Neshoba County, Miss., once a new $1.6 million emergency operations center (EOC) opens its doors this spring.

The new building will unite emergency administration offices with the county’s 911 call center under one roof, providing a dedicated facility for disaster management and collaboration opportunities. Neshoba County is also upgrading to a next-generation 911 system, which will allow for text, video and photographic communications.

In an interview with Government Technology, Jeff Mayo, the county’s emergency management director, said the dispatch console for the new technology hasn’t been purchased yet, but moving to an IP-based platform ensures the county will be ready when carriers start rolling out higher 911 functionality in the future.

But it’s the unification aspect of the project that Mayo believes will have an immediate positive impact once the new building is online. He explained that operations are currently spread over three different county facilities. The 911 call center is located at the county jail, while meeting space for collaborative activities is shared with county supervisors at the local courthouse. Emergency management personnel currently work out of the county’s Road Department office.

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Mayo and representatives from local law enforcement and fire departments, government officials and other personnel from three different tribes of the Mississippi Choctaw Indians routinely have to meet at different places. That won’t be a problem once the EOC project is finished.

“This will enable all of us to come together in a joint environment to manage emergency operations,” Mayo said.

Project Details

The building was originally scheduled to be completed on January 12. But due to weather issues – including the facility’s main generator being snowed-in in Minnesota – Mayo felt it would take a few more weeks. He added that the county just took bids on the unified communications solution that will serve as the network infrastructure and telephony for the building. Getting that finalized and installed would likely push back a move-in date to early March at the earliest.

Most of the EOC’s price tag is being covered by federal grants. Neshoba County received a federal EOC grant in the amount of $976,800. It also scored a $233,267 grant to construct a safe room in the facility that will harden the exterior walls, roof, windows and doors. The county has to match 25 percent of the grant funds. The next-generation 911 system cost approximately $178,000. Overall, Mayo expects the project to finish slightly under budget.

The Neshoba Democrat reported that the county also purchased an Orion Aries computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for $35,127. The updated technology should aid 911 dispatchers in routing first responders to an incident.

According to Mayo, an additional CAD is also being added once the 911 call center is active in the EOC, bringing the total number of work stations to four. The extra station will be needed – Neshoba County has signed an intergovernmental agreement with neighboring Kemper County to provide 911 services to residents, including both call receipt processing and dispatching. The Democrat noted that Kemper County will pay Neshoba $60,000 for the first year of service, and then increase the cost by 5 percent every year thereafter.

The city of Philadelphia, Miss., is also considering how it will address 911 dispatch, entertaining the idea of using Neshoba County’s new system. Philadelphia Mayor James Young told the Democrat that the city is waiting to see what its new fire chief wants to do, however, before making any decisions.

“When we decided to build the new facility and first got notification of the grant award, we just asked the city [and said] this would be a good time if they wanted to do that, so we could incorporate the technology … and integrate the personnel into having that kind of central dispatch for the jurisdiction,” Mayo said. “We’ll see where that goes.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.