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    Inside LB's New Emergency Communications & Operations Center

    ECOC Nov 12/03(November 15, 2003) -- As reported first among LB media last week, the city's new Emergency Communications and Operations Center (ECOC) is now handling LB 911 calls.

    Although the ECOC's official ribbon-cutting comes later this month, and other media outlets were given a tour of the new facility on November 12. We brought our digital camera so you could see what we did.

    Simply put: the building itself -- and the equipment it houses -- are both incredibly impressive.

    ECOC Nov 12/03"Long Beach now has the most technologically advanced ECOC of any city in the country," 5th district Councilwoman Jackie Kell told reporters. She credited the outcome in part to residents who objected to City Hall's initial plan to put the 42,000 sq. ft. building, its radio tower and adjoining parking lot in part of Stearns Park.

    In late 1999, Stearns Park area homeowner Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, backed by Los Altos Neighborhood Ass'n South founder and realtor Joe Sopo and park advocate Ann Cantrell, succeeded in pressing then-4th district Councilman Del Roosevelt to urge a different site (and the Council agreed). The change in plans gave city officials an opportunity to upgrade the ECOC's planned capabilities even further...which Councilwoman Kell told reporters had produced a better result than originally planned.

    ECOC Nov 12/03The ECOC, now sited near the southeast corner of Spring St. and Redondo Ave. in the 5th district, has dual roles. In emergencies, it will become the city's nerve center...and right now, it's home to LB's new state of the art police and fire 911 dispatch centers.

    LB's previous police and fire dispatch centers -- located miles away from each other -- were antiquated...and resourceful engineers somehow kept them functioning until late October 2003. Police 911 calls were handled from a windowless City Hall basement that included periodic water leaks onto electrical equipment. LB fire dispatch on Henderson Ave. had some equipment powered by vacuum tubes and some data stored on 3 x 5 cards.

    Much of the ECOC's sophistication is not immediately apparent. Details below were provided during the media tour and in a LB Technology Services fact sheet.

    ECOC Nov 12/03During emergencies, this room will become the ECOC's nerve center. Each desk has its own computer terminal and telephone. Instead of incessant ringing telephones, the phones use flashing lights. Noise and bedlam don't promote clear thinking. Instead of deafening emergency audio, the room is bathed in invisible infrared light carrying audio ranging from CNN to police and fire radio that personnel can select on wireless headphones.

    ECOC Nov 12/03Conference rooms surround the central area for quick access. Conference room windows are tilted to deaden sound in the central area.

    Personnel elsewhere in the building can stay at their posts and still receive briefings; the ECOC nerve center is equipped with a TV camera and mike to send video and audio throughout the building.

    A LB Technology Dept. fact sheet says the ECOC's emergency systems are kept in a "ready state" at all times so they can be made fully functional quickly at the onset of a disaster or other major incident.

    The ECOC can receive direct feeds of police helicopter video...and can send camera and communication feeds to Charter cable and media news vans so they can send out emergency broadcasts. And the building includes numerous security features that we needn't describe here.

    ECOC Nov 12/03The ECOC is earthquake ready (the Newport/Inglewood fault zone runs through part of LB). The ECOC doesn't sit on the ground. It rests on sophisticated seismic base isolators. This shot was taken from below the building itself...showing the base isolators on which the building rests.

    ECOC Nov 12/03The base isolators are more complex than they appear. In a major earthquake, we're told they are designed so the building above can remain relatively stable despite ground movement below.

    ECOC Nov 12/03There are racks upon racks of electronic equipment. The ECOC includes a Local Area Network (LAN)/Wide Area Network (WAN), a design that enables "isolated" network traffic to enhance security and reliability. The ECOC network contains 20 miles of technology infrastructure cabling in the building.

    ECOC Nov 12/03This empty space currently accommodates elected officials and nosey reporters...but it was designed to handle future technological upgrades.

    ECOC Nov 12/03The ECOC was designed with several levels of redundancy and backups. This is one of two 600 kilowatt diesel generators.

    Yes, the generators meet AQMD standards. Yes, the ECOC has its own underground fuel tanks for the generators. The two generators can produce a total of 1.2 megawatts to run the ECOC for days.

    ECOC Nov 12/03The generators also sit on earthquake buffering isolators.

    ECOC Nov 12/03This is a bigger version of something readers may recall from the "energy crisis": an Uninterruptable Power Supply, in effect an instantaneously operable big battery...and this is a really big computer controlled battery.

    If the ECOC loses power even momentarily, the battery backup kicks in...and preserves critical systems. If both backup diesel generators fail, the batteries can run the entire building for hours.

    And if those backup systems fail, the ECOC can also run on external generators (and yes they have a plan if that becomes necessary.)

    ECOC Nov 12/03An adjoining communications tower roughly 100 feet high is filled with antennas.

    LB's microwave radio system was also expanded and includes dual paths: one from the ECOC to Signal Hill and another from the nearby Water Treatment Plant to Reservoir Hill (above PCH just east of Redondo).

    Verizon upgraded its communications network to the ECOC, using fiber optic architecture with dual paths of the ECOC.

    LB upgraded its existing computer aided dispatch (CAD) system to provide graphic user interface with comprehensive mapping for 911 phone calls and reporting incidents.

    ECOC Nov 12/03This is one corner of LBPD's 911 dispatch center. Call takers can view caller details, including a map of the caller location. With a mouse click, computers can zoom in on an area...and even display building footprints.

    ECOC Nov 12/03Councilwoman Kell looks on as the calls come in.

    The ECOC has a new 911 system with dual 911 switches with automatic call distribution to call takers. When cell phones permit, it has the capability of directly receiving some 911 calls from wireless phones...bypassing the need for CHP to transfer wireless calls to LB.

    ECOC Nov 12/03This is LBFD's fire dispatch center.

    ECOC Nov 12/03Workstations are ergonomically designed, including adjustable work surface heights to let personnel sit or stand, minimizing cumulative trauma disorders.

    Additional background

    At the Sept. 26, 2001 Council meeting, Councilwoman Kell credited a change in City Hall's initially proposed Stearns Park site -- which was changed to Spring/Redondo after a successful campaign led by 4th district resident Traci Wilson-Kleekamp -- with permitting time to incorporate important improvements in the ECOC facility. She said:

    ...You can always do things fast, but you can't always do them right, and I'm delighted that this project is being done correctly. Not agreeing to build this center at Stearns Park two years ago may now be a blessing in disguise.

    Not only is this new site more accessible and has less of an impact to the neighborhood, but this two year delay has allowed us to learn about the feature designs which have worked well, and have not worked so well, at [the] recently completed Los Angeles City Emergency Operations Center and other newer facilities.

    This means that when our facility is built, we will be able to incorporate what worked at these other facilities while redesigning those features that need alterations. We have learned from their mistakes and will now have the newest, most effective, most efficient Emergency Communications and Operations Center in the nation.

    I for one am looking forward to the groundbreaking for this new facility next month, and even more to its completion at the end of next year.

    Prior to the Council vote, then-LB activist (now PhD and Monterey resident) Colette Marie McLaughlin came to the podium to recommend that the Council name the new ECOC for Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp since "she is the one that is responsible for this and we owe her much."

    Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp's efforts culminated in a dramatic Council vote directing city staff to find a site other than Stearns park...and staff did: the LB Water Dept. location at the southeast corner of Spring St. and Redondo Ave.

    Getting LB's new ECOC built and on line completes a process spanned many years. In August 1996, City Hall sought a tax increase ballot measure to finance the project. The Council (on motion by then-Councilman, now Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal) passed a non-binding "minute order" publicly committing to complete the 911/ECOC by the end of 1999.

    Voters declined to approve the tax increase by the legally required 2/3 margin...and then-City Manager James Hankla moved quickly to put alternative financing in place within just six to eight months. [ comment: We think this should have meant completion of the new 911 ECOC roughly six to eight months later than originally promised, roughly mid to late 2000.]

    In the fall of 1999, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp (who had just purchased a home near Stearns Park) was stunned to see fencing going up near an adjacent school. So were her neighbors...and a three month civic firestorm ensued over putting the ECOC on land between the LBFD fire training facility and part of Stearns Park.

    In December 1999, at the height of the brouhaha, a city staff memo indicated that City Hall's best case scenario for completing the 911/ECOC at the Stearns Park site was mid-2002. The Council (with support from then-4th district Councilman Del Roosevelt) then voted to find an alternative site which led to Spring/Redondo.

    At the September 25, 2001 Council meeting, Councilmembers adopted revised plans and specifications and awarded a $12.186 million contract which could be increased by up to 25% without subsequent Council action (per standard public works specs). The construction cost came to approximately $15 million, in part reflecting changes incorporated after 9-11-01...and still $1 million under the amount that had been budgeted.

    In a Sept. 25, 2001 memo to Councilmembers, city staff said construction "is expected to commence in October 2001 and be completed by the spring of 2003. At that time, the installation of the telecommunications and other electrical systems can begin with an estimated completion date of the fall of 2003."

    And it was.

    From this, it appears that switching from the planned Stearns Park site to Spring/Redondo accounted for roughly a 15 month delay (roughly mid 2002 to fall 2003). Redesign work by another firm also required another roughly $750,000.

    The net result, as Councilwoman Kell observed, is a superior ECOC...and Ms. Wilson-Kleekamp adds, protected Stearns Park.

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