Santa Maria city information technology staff test new equipment for emergency dispatchers in their new home at the Santa Maria police station at 1111 W. Betteravia Road. The dispatchers are to move in to the new facility on Wednesday, the final phase of SMPD’s transition from its aging and cramped facility at 222 E. Cook St. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The final occupants of the new Santa Maria police station will move in Wednesday under a carefully crafted plan to keep the emergency dispatch center operating during the relocation.

While most Santa Maria Police Department employees began working out of the new station at 1111 W. Betteravia Road in 2015, emergency dispatchers remained behind at the old station at 222 E. Cook St.

From the beginning, the project had been planned as a two-phase relocation, with police officers, support staff and crime lab employees moving in first with dispatchers to follow later.

“It’s been a long sequence because there’s several different systems coming into play,” Lt. Russ Mengel said of the delays.

As part of the move, crews installed a new radio system with a tower near Los Flores Ranch Park. The 700-megahertz system is touted as the strongest between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The 9-1-1 system will feature new software, making the Santa Maria agency the first in California to use it, Mengel said.

Another upgrade involves the computer-aided dispatch system.

“Getting all three components to sync and go live at the same time has been complicated to say the least,” Mengel told Noozhawk.

Dispatchers will begin operating out the West Betteravia facility Wednesday, with some employees and equipment still working at the old base to ensure the system remains operable.

The new, $30 million police station replaced a facility built six decades ago. The Betteravia site, once used by Lockheed Martin and purchased by the City of Santa Maria, provides SMPD with 70,000 square feet of space.

On Friday, city information technology crews put finishing touches on consoles to prepare for the dispatchers’ arrival.

A neon sign from the old Santa Maria police station on East Cook Street stands in a hallway of the department’s spacious new facility at 1111 W. Betteravia Road.

A neon sign from the old Santa Maria police station on East Cook Street stands in a hallway of the department’s spacious new facility at 1111 W. Betteravia Road.
(Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

When dispatchers arrive Wednesday, each work station will be implemented one at a time to ensure the system works. The goal is to shut down the East Cook Street operations by the end of the day and relocate those consoles to Betteravia to complete the final installation.

“It’s a huge operation,” Mengel said, adding that the plan spells out exact timelines for ensuring a smooth move.

Police officers are looking forward to having dispatchers back under the same roof and not across town, he said.

“Whenever there was an emergency of significance, the supervisors would go from the watch commander’s office to dispatch,” he said. “That way we were able to hear firsthand the calls coming in, we were able to hear the caller, what was the nature of the emergency.”

Police supervisors could use the information to decide on resources, strategy and tactics.

“Since the move we haven’t had that ability,” Mengel noted. “It’s like trying to eat an elephant through a straw sometimes. You’re only getting what information’s coming over the radio, and trying to make an assessment and decisions based on the little information you have sometimes is a best guess.”

While the existing dispatch center sits in a police station built before the advent of modern electronics, the new facility was designed with equipment needs in mind, including a raised floor for cables.

“This is truly going to be a state-of-the art facility,” Mengel said. “We’re looking to grow. We’re even looking at offering allied agencies dispatch services.”

Among new capabilities, the system will allow police and firefighters to communicate more easily, a goal created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when agencies responding to the emergencies were hampered by communication systems that didn’t work well together.

“Now literally every police officer will be able to talk with a firefighter, so the issues of 9/11 now are going to be solved, at least here locally,” Mengel said.

Once operational, he said, other agencies will be able to see what the Santa Maria facility offers.

“This is the wave of the future,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty neat.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.