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Call center nearing completion on Big Island

HILO, Hawai‘i — Hawai‘i County’s police and fire dispatchers are getting closer to moving into a new call center that has been under construction since October 2021.

Hawai‘i Police Department Chief Ben Moszkowicz said the county should be handed the keys to the long-awaited facility next to the Mohouli Senior Housing Project by the end of this month, and the dispatchers could move in this fall.

“We have to bring in our contractors to install the dispatch consoles and the monitors and the 911 equipment and the computers and all that stuff,” Moszkowicz said recently. “So, we’re estimating six to eight weeks for that process — which puts us right about the beginning of September, which is when we’re expecting to be able to move our operations up there.”

That’s a far cry from the original goal of 2023 to move into the Hawai‘i County Emergency Call Center, and the last estimated public price tag of $33 million is almost 25 percent higher than the original projection of $25.4 million for the project.

“That number might be outdated in terms of the total cost,” Hawai‘i Fire Department Chief Kazuo Todd cautioned, adding he thinks the public will be gaining “essentially the best equipment and facility that we can provide for the people based on the tax funding that we have.”

The call center, originally conceived in the early 2000s, broke ground during the early phase of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Supply chain problems added both time and money to the project.

Fire dispatchers, especially, have had a tough go in recent years. They have a high rate of attrition and previously worked in part of the decrepit, 91-year-old Central Fire Station in downtown Hilo that was potentially dangerous, with pieces of ceiling falling and outdated electrical system and plumbing.

That caused authorities to move fire and EMS dispatchers last year from the station at the corner of Kilauea and Ponahawai streets into the current police dispatch center at 349 Kapiolani St.

“We expected they would be here for four or five weeks, and it’s been almost a year,” Moszkowicz said. “But the really amazing part — and this is pretty cool … the new dispatch center was designed probably a decade ago in such a way that there are two large operational spaces. One was designed for the police department. And there is literally a cinder-block wall between that room and the next room over, which is the fire dispatchers.

“What’s happened, though, as we started to imagine how we can use the space, and because the fire dispatchers have been with our dispatchers for about a year, is that they don’t want to do it that way anymore. They don’t want to set up a fire room and a police room. They want to have the fire dispatchers and the police dispatchers in the same room, and it all integrated into one operation center — which, to me, is a much better practice.”

“And that’s really exciting,” Moszkowicz continued. “Because that request didn’t come from me or Chief Todd, it came from the dispatchers who have worked with each other for the last year, who say, ‘Hey, we see a lot of benefit from both of us being in the same room.’”

“I am all for that,” Todd added. “I think there is a great value in having us all together, talking and communicating — what’s going on and where our resources are.”

Moszkowicz said that once dispatchers are moved into the Mohouli facility, the Kapiolani call center will remain equipped as an alternative facility in case of an emergency or equipment or software upgrades at Mohouli that require dispatchers to work elsewhere.

As for fire dispatch personnel issues, Todd said the department is “doing our best to bring up new recruits and get that process going.”

“We’re in a constant state of training up new employees and matriculating them into the system,” he said. “It’s not where we want to be but better than where we had been in the past.”

“I would ask that the public be considerate of our 911 dispatchers,” Todd continued. “They do one of the hardest jobs in the emergency responder field. They’re literally going from one phone call to the next, oftentimes with people who are having the worst day of their life.

“It’s hard to tell someone on the phone who’s having a really bad day to be patient and be nice. But for the people calling 911, being a dispatcher is a really difficult job and if they seem a little preoccupied, it’s because they probably have other things going on, like a bunch of calls coming in. As much appreciation and patience as the callers could possibly have is appreciated.”
Source: The Garden Island

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