LAFAYETTE, LA — Under the Lafayette courthouse, down a steep staircase, and far from the light of day, is the voice you want to hear when in need of help.
“911. Where’s your emergency?”, Lafayette Parish 911 operators repeat 700 times a day, thousands more during a hurricane.
For 36 years, Lafayette 911 and the Office of Emergency Preparedness has called a Cold War era bomb shelter home.
“People have referred to it as the dungeon”, admitted Director Craig Stansbury, but this week construction began for a new state of the art facility. He says its desperately needed because as Lafayette’s grown, their operations have run out of room.
Stansbury says on a normal day, only five 911 operators can cover the parish at once. He hopes to have at least eight when the new center opens late next year, with room for more when a hurricane strikes.
Walking around the facility you see a lot of technology that looks outdated. Some of the old phones and screens are still used because they work. A fund for a new building started 18 years ago and has accumulated $12 million. The new building has a $9.6 million price tag.
Stansbury says, “We’re building the building for what 911 needs instead of retrofitting it to the basement of the courthouse.
With the state of the art building, comes state of the art technology, including Louisiana’s first cloud-based emergency response system, which will be flood-proof, unlike server-based systems which have notoriously gone down during flooding disasters in Florida and even Baton Rouge. When that happens, the entire CAD system has to be replaced.
“If the whole building went down, we could still connect to that cloud almost in any other location and run 911 seamlessly”, said Stansbury “We’d have all the capabilities we did if our building was up and running”.
911 centers are at their busiest during natural disasters. The new facility will be rated for category five hurricanes and above. It will be fitted with backup systems for water, electricity and more.
Stansbury says he’s most excited for the new features which will help increase efficiency in emergency response but also getting his 911 operators a better environment.
The cramped, dark space they are in now is not the best for morale. The new facility on 1810 W Willow St. will have more spacious bunks, desks, and other facilities if the police, fire, or sheriff’s office needs them. It will also be above ground with enough room to grow for the next 25 years.