An Oklahoma County 911 dispatch center will move later this year from its current home–a building on a parking lot in Midwest City, where a car dealership once operated–to a newly-built, storm-resistant building at Metro Technology Centers’ S. Bryant Avenue location.
A $1 annual lease agreement between the sheriff’s office and school system to lock in the move was approved by Oklahoma County Commissioners earlier this month.
But the deal isn’t just about better facilities at an affordable price. It also aims to spark interest among Metro Tech’s Public Safety Academy students in 911 dispatching positions at Oklahoma County, which can sometimes be difficult to fill.
Inside the center, academy students will work with dispatch professionals as they are exposed to real-life situations and scenarios, providing them with valuable experience they can take with them into the job market.
The training opportunity will give people interested in the career some early experience, rather than relying on on-the-job training.
“I think, sometimes people underestimate the level of stress that can come with that job, and it sometimes can be a difficult position for us to fill,” said Aaron Brilbeck, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
“Offering experience to academy participants will help us dramatically, because it no longer will be baptism by fire.”
“When you are trained and understand the industry, you are plug and play, almost. The learning curve isn’t as big. The training process is a benefit for everybody,” agreed Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III.
The dispatch center handles emergency and non-emergency calls for fire and police services for Oklahoma County communities east of Interstate 35, except for Edmond, Midwest City and Del City. Those communities have their own dispatch centers.
The center’s existing home of more than 20 years is vulnerable to severe weather that potentially could knock it offline, Undersheriff James Anderson told commissioners.
“It will be the first time in the recent history I am aware of that the sheriff’s office will have a purpose-built, hardened, secure, state-of-the-art communications center with redundant power and internet services,” said Anderson. “Our interruptions for whatever reason, short of something really catastrophic happening, should be almost nothing.”
Anderson said space for the new center is large enough to accommodate additional communications consoles for other agencies that might want to locate their dispatch operations there.
He said it will improve services to county residents at little to no cost–even the center’s utilities will be paid for by Metro Technology Centers, he told commissioners before they unanimously approved the agreement.
The bonus for the school, he told them, is that the county will offer communications-related training and certifications to enrollees within its academy.
“I am excited about this partnership,” Commissioner Carrie Blumert said.
How the new 911 center helps Metro Tech students.
Aaron Collins, the superintendent of Metro Tech, said hosting the county sheriff’s 911 center excites him because of the real-world training opportunities it brings.
Metro Tech began putting the Public Safety Academy together about four years ago. It offers Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training certifications for law officers and also offers emergency medical services and firefighting training.
The academy also is geared toward preparing high school students and young adults for Oklahoma City Police Department academies.
Metro Tech began planning a new building for the academy’s use on its South Bryant Avenue campus after county voters supported an $80 million bond issue in 2019.
The system also used the bond issue’s proceeds to build a new building for cosmetology students, renovate its business conference center and make other improvements to its Springlake campus.
The system will consolidate all of its Public Safety Academy programs into the new building before the end of this year, Supt. Collins said.
Supt. Collins credited Sheriff Johnson for suggesting a partnership between the vocational-technical school and his agency to find room for the county-operated 911 communications center because of the benefits it creates.
Talks between the two entities to create a beneficial agreement started “before a shovel even touched the ground,” he said.
“Employers are seeking safe communities with strong educational systems where they can locate and grow and their employees can establish and grow their families,” the Metro Tech superintendent said. “When we have a strong county and city and education partnership, what you get then is a wonderful place in which to live.”