After more than a decade in cramped, dark quarters in the downtown police station bullpen, Casper dispatchers moved into their new home Thursday in the Nerd Gas building near the Eastridge Mall.
Callers who dialed 911 didn’t notice the seamless transition, but on the other end of that call, dispatchers are now better-equipped to conduct the delicate dance of emergency response across Natrona County.
“There will be fewer people in and out of here, fewer distractions,” said Jill Hickstein, a lead dispatcher.
Thanks to an extra screen, dispatchers don’t have to shuffle between different programs to get officers, engines or ambulances where they need to be. All the information is right in front of them.
And the working conditions are vastly improved.
“We have room to spread out," Hickstein said. "We were right on top of each other before.”
The police station bullpen was only 600 square feet, which gave the six dispatchers little room to maneuver.
The Nerd Gas building was nothing but a shell of concrete floor and studs nine months ago. Today, it has skylights, a kitchen, a 2,150-square-foot dispatch center and a 2,000-square-foot emergency command center.
Building a similar facility from scratch might have cost close to $4.5 million, said Lt. Steve Freel. Since much of the necessary infrastructure was already in place at the Nerd Gas building – it was designed as a call center – the price tag came in closer to $1.5 million.
The prize jewels of the command center are two gigantic, wall-sized screens.
Freel said the room is big enough to gather the necessary personnel in one room during a disaster. The screens let emergency coordinators view real-time security camera footage, Internet maps, media coverage and any other information the city needs to deal with something like a fire on Casper Mountain or a major snowstorm.
The dispatch center has added a seventh person and has room to expand to 10. That might come into play down the road because of the upgraded systems that came along with the move.
The new radio system allows local dispatchers and agencies to talk directly to agencies across the state, and the new phone system could allow Casper to become a regional dispatch center in the future.
“Other agencies could run their (dispatch) operations through us if they wanted to just go 8-to-5 or scrap their operations,” Freel said.