- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Officials yesterday dedicated the new Unified Communications Center in Southeast, which will accept calls for police, fire, medical emergency and public service throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

“It is a great model to the rest of the country,” said Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “I hope we never have a catastrophe that will test this center.”

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who was cited as “the father of UCC,” cut a ribbon to formally open the center.

“It’s the nerve center for emergency services … serving and protecting D.C. citizens and residents,” Mr. Williams said.

During the 2002 sniper shootings and in the aftermath of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon, police, fire and emergency personnel from different communities that responded were unable to communicate easily because they used different radio frequencies.

The center also will serve as the communications hub for underground emergency operations in the Metro system, which could involve personnel from several jurisdictions. It also eventually will be able to share wireless audio, video and text data with operations control centers in Maryland, Virginia and other nearby states.

“This is the perfect facility to handle regional communications if we have another sniper attack,” E. Michael Latessa, the director of the D.C. Unified Communications Center, said during the dedication ceremony.

Operations at the $116 million state-of-the-art facility began Friday morning.

By noon yesterday, operators had answered calls within five seconds and dispatched help, when necessary, to 16,594 calls, or 98.9 percent of all calls, officials said.

The national average is 95 percent of calls in 10 seconds, said Suzanne Peck, the District’s chief technology officer.

The 365 employees in the three-story, 127,000-square-foot center at 2720 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia will handle calls for police, fire, emergency medical services, public services, the D.C. Emergency Management Agency and the federal government.

“In case of any emergency, we are on the same page, with the same authority,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, noting that the federal government kicked in $24 million for the construction of the center.

“The federal understanding is that there are no borders,” she said. “The attack on the Pentagon was an attack on the region.”

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the call center, referenced the poor working conditions at the old call center during his remarks yesterday.

Mr. Mendelson said that broken air conditioners often left the facility too hot and that when the units were turned on, they were so loud that they drowned out emergency calls.

After an inspection in May 2005, Mr. Mendelson said he found the women’s bathroom in disrepair and a door missing from a stall. He said telephones, desks and chairs were broken, and employee break rooms and a coat closet were used to store broken furniture.

That building, the Public Safety Communications Center on MacMillan Drive Northwest opened in July 2001 at a cost of nearly $10 million. It will now serve as a backup and a training facility.

Mr. Williams said the UCC will boost the economy of Ward 8.

“Welcome to the new Ward 8,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who represents Ward 8. “This structure is going to spur improvements throughout the ward.”

The building has generators, food, water and other essentials to maintain operations for three days in case an emergency eliminates easy access to those essentials.

A traffic-management center also is located in the building. Following the July 4 fireworks display on the Mall, the D.C. Department of Transportation worked with authorities in Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs to test the designated evacuation routes that would be used during a real emergency.

“It’s critical for the success of the National Capital region, that Virginia, Maryland and our federal partners work … closely together,” Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said.

• Matthew Cella contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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