WATAUGA — Boone and Watauga County officially consolidated the 911 call center into one center on May 1.

The Boone Town Council voted on March 23 to consolidate the 911 services with Watauga County. The county followed suit on April 5 when the Watauga County Board of Commissioners finalized the consolidation of 911 services.

The majority of Boone telecommunicators transferred to the county and the town will pay an annual fee of $419,940 to the county to help cover costs.

Watauga County Emergency Services Director Will Holt said before the consolidation, a 911 call would either go to the Boone Police Department in town limits or to the county call center when outside of the town.

“It’s gone very well,” Holt said. “No significant issues at all.”

During the initial transition, Holt said they are trying to leverage the “subject matter experts” as everyone gets more comfortable and learns each other’s nuances.

With the consolidation, the call center is working toward having five telecommunicators during peak load times — noon to midnight — and four during the other times.

According to Holt, Boone answered 849 emergency calls while Watauga answered 1,417 in August 2021. That data does not include non-emergency calls, which Holt said are significantly higher.

Anecdotally, Holt said the consolidation has already cut down response times as calls won’t have to be transferred.

Sometimes, if a person called 911 on the outskirts of Boone, it would go to the county, which would then have to transfer the call to Boone.

“That’s no longer an issue because we keep it and process it,” Holt said. “I would say, yes, it’s absolutely reducing call processing times because there’s no more transfers in the in the greater Boone area.”

Because of how early in the process they are with the consolidation, Holt said he does not have objective data yet on how much it has reduced call processing times.

Along with faster call processing, Holt said it has also increased safety for the public safety departments in the county.

“All the information is now in one place instead of multiple centers that may not be able to talk directly to each other sometimes,” Holt said. “Interoperability is is so much better already. We hear all the same channels now. It’s no longer ‘Hey, let me call the county or let me call the town.’ We’re all in the same area. So that is a great benefit to our public safety agencies.”

Holt said it’s also cost-efficient since they reduce the amount of duplication that could occur.

The 911 call center is located in the Emergency Services building at the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. In the future, Holt said the county is looking to construct a new one on county property on Brookshire Road. Once that is built, Holt said that would be the primary communication center. Then there would be a backup facility incase anything ever happened. The Boone Police Department is the current backup facility for the communications center, Holt said.

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