DANVERS — It could cost $4.5 million to $6.5 million to upgrade the dispatch center in the police station, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said.
A study recommends an addition to the police station on Ash Street. Selectmen, who were scheduled for a presentation last night, will need to discuss options for a possible article for the upcoming May Town Meeting.
Problems with the town’s outdated emergency communications were exposed during the fiery explosion of an ink and paint plant in Danversport in 2006, police Chief Neil Ouellette said. The blast, which could be felt for miles, destroyed or damaged dozens of homes in Danversport. Dispatchers scrambled to field frantic 911 calls and dispatch help from a cramped room inside the station.
The police station’s present center is a combined police and fire dispatch staffed by civilians. And while the town was able to respond to the emergency, dispatchers found that calls for fire response “stepped on” or drowned out other calls, Ouellette said.
“There is no sight and sound separation” in the room, Ouellette said. To make matters worse, there were not enough working consoles for added dispatchers. The communications dispatch room, built along with the station in 1977, did not envision computer monitors. The room has 15 of them displayed around the room.
“It’s outlived its life potential,” the chief said.
Deficiencies go beyond the dispatch room. The town tried to manage the response from the town manager’s conference room in Town Hall, which also proved less than ideal, with just a phone line, one computer and some cellphones, Ouellette said. That’s why the station also needs a room to handle such emergencies, he said.
Another concern is that the station’s networking and communications equipment sits below the dispatch room, under water pipes in a basement that has been known to flood.