HISTORY AND CURRENT STATUS OF THE ORLEANS PARISH COMMUNICATIONS DISTRICT
The creation of the Orleans Parish Communication District, OPCD, and the subsequent creation of E9 1 1 Districts around the State was the culmination of efforts by the public safety community to provide a single, easy to remember telephone number for citizens to request emergency services.
House Bill 856 was signed into law by Governor David Treen as Act 155 in August 1982. After four years of research, planning, and purchasing required call-taking equipment, the OPCD went “live” with E9-1-1 service to all residents of and visitors to Orleans Parish. E9-1-1 service was, and still is, a well-coordinated effort among the OPCD, New Orleans Police and Fire Departments, EMS, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Coordination (OCJC), and South Central Bell (now AT&T).
Act 155 provided that the governing authority of the OPCD would be a nine-member Board of Commissioners comprised of the following officials: Superintendents of the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments; Director of New Orleans Health Department; Director of the Office of Civil Defense (now Office of Emergency Preparedness, OEP); CEO of the Medical Center of Louisiana in New Orleans; Commander of Louisiana State Police Troop B; Commandant of the Louisiana Army National Guard; and two at-large members appointed by the Mayor. Since 1982, the Orleans Parish Medical Society and New Orleans EMS have been added to the Board of Commissioners, for a total of 11 Board members.
Since 1982, the OPCD Board of Commissioners has had six Board Chairs and four Vice-Chairs.
Chairs of the Board of Commissioners:
Col. Terry J. Ebbert, at-large Member 2008 – present
Superintendent Warren E. McDaniels, N.O.F.D. 1997 – 2008
Major General Ansel M. Stroud Jr., LA National Guard 1994 – 1997
Mr. Bryan K. Giddings, Director, O.E.P. 1991 – 1994
Superintendent Warren G. Woodfork, N.O.P.D. 1985 – 1991
Superintendent Henry M. Morris, N.O.P.D. 1982 – 1985
Vice Chairs of the Board of Commissioners:
Dr. Brobson Lutz, Orleans Parish Medical Society 2003 – present
Captain Leonard M. Ryan, LA. State Police 2000 – 2003
Mr. Robert Eichorn, Director, O.E.P. 1997 – 1998
Superintendent William J. McCrossen, N.O.F.D. 1982 – 1993
Stuart P. Carroll, who was the Mayor’s Deputy Assistant for Criminal Justice at the OCJC, became OPCD’s first Executive Director. He held that position from 1988, until his death in 1997. William A. Hawkins was the second Director until his retirement in 2006, and Danny L. Gilbert served as Interim Director from 2006-2007. In January 2008, the Board of Commissioners appointed retired NOPD Captain Stephen J. Gordon as Executive Director.
From the very first day, the OPCD has provided New Orleanians with Enhanced 911 service. This means that the 9-1-1 caller’s address and telephone number are automatically provided to the E9-1-1 call-taker. At that time, and until 2005, the Police Communications Center was located at Police Headquarters on S. Broad Street near Tulane Avenue and the Fire and EMS Center was located in a communications building on Rosedale Street, near Canal Blvd. When someone dialed 9-1-1, the call routed to the Police Communications Center, which were answered by Police E9-1-1 call-takers. Callers needing Fire or EMS assistance were transferred over to the Rosedale Center for processing and dispatching of emergency units.
The OPCD initially used a DCI Automatic Call Distributor, (A.C.D.) telephone switch, which automatically distributed the next incoming call to the E9-1-1 call-taker who had been idle the longest. The OPCD eventually purchased a Lucent A.C.D. switch, and currently uses a Positron Public Safety Systems incorporating a Meridian PBX with an A.C.D. switch.
On July 20, 1995, the OPCD provided a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system designed by S.C.C., which allowed dispatchers to electronically and efficiently manage pending calls for service. “Cutting edge” workstations were used for this project – 486 processors, at 66 MHz speeds, containing 129 MB hard drives!
Hurricane Katrina changed everything. In addition to devastating the City, Katrina flooded both E9 1 1 call centers and all the BellSouth E9-1-1 switching equipment. There was no E9-1-1 service available. Mayor Ray Nagin made it clear that the City could not re-open without this important public safety service. The OPCD staff and Board met the challenge, and worked with Positron Public Safety Systems and Motorola to replace all damaged E9-1-1 equipment. OPCD also offered to provide the dispatch center for the three public safety agencies, because their previous dispatch centers were not usable.
On September 26, 2005, one month after Katrina, the OPCD went live with 9-1-1 service and co-located the three public safety agencies in one room. The OPCD used a large ballroom in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, next to the Louisiana Superdome, and Positron Public Safety Systems created and installed a new telephone switch and workstations on an emergency basis.
On November 3, 2005, the Hyatt notified the OPCD the E9-1-1 Center would have to leave the hotel because the hotel was more damaged than previously thought. OPCD was able to negotiate an additional two weeks to the deadline, and on December 16, 2005, the OPCD moved the E 9-1-1 Center to temporary facilities at its current location near Canal Street and City Park Avenue. Seven double-wide modular buildings were joined together to form one large room. The OPCD had to demolish an abandoned bank building and construct the modular buildings with all necessary E9-1-1 equipment—once again, on an emergency priority. This amazing feat was accomplished in 43 days, in spite of scarce commercial resources in a devastated region! This was the first time the OPCD became the owner of the E9 1 1 building, responsible for the utilities, maintenance, and security. Once again, Positron and Motorola worked closely with OPCD to ensure a smooth transition from the Hyatt to the City Park Avenue location.
The OPCD knew that the modular buildings could not withstand hurricane-force winds, and immediately began to provide a strengthened 911 center. The OPCD built a reinforced metal Interim building on the same land and moved the E9-1-1 Call Center in on June 14, 2006, at the start of the next hurricane season.
Since 1984, OPCD has provided the telecommunications mainframe and workstation computers with Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) capabilities, ensuring that the E9-1-1 call-takers have the tools to answer and process 9-1-1 calls quickly. The OPCD continues to upgrade equipment to ensure that the public has the best possible E9-1-1 service, and that the public safety agencies have the best technology to receive, process, and dispatch E9-1-1 calls.
Currently, the OPCD provides the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, electronic mapping (GIS) system, audio logging of the telephone and radio systems, and an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) for the entire E9-1-1 building, backed up by a generator with a week’s supply of diesel.
The OPCD provides the land, buildings, perimeter security fencing, lighting, a proximity access card system, and a video camera security system, which provides enhanced security for the public, and the three agencies and their employees.
The OPCD provides 38 workstations with each having electric elevating work surfaces with individual climate controls and top quality dispatcher chairs.
The OPCD provides training for E9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers (in addition to agency-provided training), continuing professional education conferences for the Communications Command Staff for the three agencies, and a school education program on the proper use of 9-1-1.
Every year, the OPCD holds a 9-1-1 Poster Contest for students from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade in which winners are awarded cash prizes and a recognition banquet. This contest to recognizes their talent and promotes the proper use of 9-1-1.
OPCD also makes sure the database of telephone numbers and locations of every landline telephone in New Orleans is kept current. This database is crucial in automatically providing the public safety agencies with the correct address and telephone call back number of any landline 9-1-1 caller in Orleans Parish.
Our objective has been and continues to be a commitment to provide the citizens of the City of New Orleans with the most technically advanced means to communicate their needs for emergency services to the agencies that respond.
We have worked with BellSouth Telecommunications, now A.T. & T., to upgrade the telephone company switching equipment and related facilities to increase the reliability and speed of moving 9 1 1 calls from a 911 Emergency Fiire Police EMS, business, or cell tower to the 9-1-1 call center.
There are several new technologies that OPCD is working on to improve the E9-1-1 system. These include working with wireless carriers to improve the location accuracy for wireless E9-1-1 callers. These improvements, coupled with an enhanced layered electronic map, will allow E9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers to be able to view an electronic map that shows the location of a 9-1-1 caller.
An OPCD major project for 2009-2012 will be the construction of a permanent communications facility to house the E9-1-1 Call Center for the City of New Orleans.
This new facility will combine state of the art equipment and work areas in a secure environment to ensure that E9-1-1 communications will continue to function even in the event of a natural or manmade disaster or terrorist attack.
The OPCD has worked with the City and emergency departments to interface the E9-1-1 system computers to other non 9-1-1 systems such as mobile data computers in police cars, records management systems in fire stations, and Fire Station Alerting to help provide service responders with real time incident and premise information. OPCD engineers further provide logistical and technical support, coordinating efforts to improve and maintain these many complex systems.
OPCD’s staff of 11 people work with and support 137 E9-1-1 call takers, dispatchers, and supervisors working in the E9-1-1 Call Center for Police, Fire, and EMS. Above all, OPCD’s 11 staff members work to ensure that the residents of Orleans Parish receive the best possible E9-1-1 service.
Although the E9-1-1 center handled over 734,000 calls in 2008, most calls are answered in less than one second. The OPCD has significantly assisted in the growth and development of 9-1-1 in the State of Louisiana. The OPCD has witnessed the growth of personnel, equipment and teamwork with public safety agencies. This achievement will thereby decrease answer and process time, improve effectiveness and accuracy, and thus save lives and property.
Numerous other enhancements and improvements to the system are in progress or on the drawing board. By its very nature, communication and information technology continues to rapidly advance. The OPCD Board and staff remain committed to keep pace with these advances to ensure that New Orleans has one of the best E9-1-1 communications systems.