With the final payment approved Wednesday for the $2.5 million construction/renovation of the Alan Wells 911 Communications Center in Park Hills, the president of the St. Francois County 911 Board of Directors and the center’s executive director say the future is looking great for continued excellence in emergency services throughout the Parkland.
The once financially struggling 911 center was revitalized after an overwhelming response from St. Francois County voters to approve a sales tax to allow the county department to update its equipment and facility, as well as increase the pay of current workers and have additional funds to add more personnel.
Board President Ron Bockenkamp was pleased that the board had kept its promise to use its funds for updating the 25-year-old facility and purchase new, state-of-the-art software and equipment.
“Needless to say, it was a distinct feeling of satisfaction primarily for two reasons,” Bockenkamp said. “One, we clearly met our commitment to the taxpayers when we asked them to support the sales tax that enabled us to realize the new facility.
“Secondly, to make the final payoff for the construction activity and all related parts of that have put us in a position where we are at least even with where we should be technically with the computers and so forth.
“It also puts us in a position now to utilize the money that will continue to come in to keep us ahead of the curve unlike where we were when we asked voters to approve the sales tax."
According to Bockenkamp, because of ever-changing technology and expanding staff, ongoing funding will be needed for upkeep of the current equipment, software and facility, along with increasing the number of personnel in the future.
“I think most people would accept that as a fact,” he said. “Anyone who uses a computer today knows that sometimes you buy one on Monday and by Friday there’s a new version out. In the case of 911, it’s vitally important that we stay ahead of the curve — or at least even with the curve — given the serious nature of the mission of 911."
Executive Director Alan Wells, who the upgraded and expanded communications center was named after, said the 911 team is settled in after their move to the expanded facility and are doing well.
“It was a difficult transition for them and they had a lot to endure,” he said. “Moving and the construction projects, as well as working around that as we built the existing facility and then had to relocate in order to reconstruct the older facility while trying to continue doing their jobs.
“Then we changed technology on them as well — along with new systems and new software formats and programs to learn as they were doing their jobs. So, we are now at the final stages of those transitions and they seem to be very happy with the facilities, the space and with our new technologies that’s still in ongoing development."
Wells also had something to say about the need to continue updating equipment and software for the communications center.
“As we know, technology changes rapidly,” he said. "Already some of our systems are no longer the latest with changes in technology, but we think we’re there on the edge. Next generation systems and information and data that’s going to be sent through to the 911 center — the emergency calls — is still on the forefront in the United States.
“A lot of the industry and carriers aren’t capable of sending some of that information yet, but it is on the horizon. We know it’s there. We know it’s coming, and we think we have positioned ourselves where we need to be to be able to serve our citizens.”
According to Wells, the quality of service being provided county residents has been greatly enhanced over the past two years.
“We’ve upgraded our communications systems, so our responders can better communicate with us in response mode,” he said. “With the new phone system technologies — we’re hoping to better locate and narrow down locations. On the horizon is being able to pull in next generation texting and videos and photos of incidents and scenes as they’re happening. It’s very crucial.
“Again, the industry is not sending that to us in Missouri yet, but we’re on the cutting edge, so we’ll be ready when it does happen.”
“It’s vitally important that we have the community’s support that allows us to provide a service to the voters of this county in emergencies,” Bockenkamp said. “We could not nearly enough express our appreciation to the voters of the county in supporting the sales tax and I think in the final analysis, they have realized the benefit that we committed to."
Wells wholeheartedly agreed with Bockenkamp’s words of thanks for the community’s support.
“This whole initiative was only possible due to the support of our citizens, our taxpayers and our community,” he said. “We’re happy that they entrusted us enough to move forward and give them the future communications and technology to do our job and to help protect life and property."