The new communications center for the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office went online Wednesday, Sept. 22, after four years in the works. According to those in charge, as well as those in front of the microphones, the upgrade is a huge success.
“Burnet County now has a state-of-the-art communications system,” Capt. Chris Jett said. “We are now as good as the agencies to the east of us. This prepares us for the growth that’s coming.”
The dispatchers themselves agree. When asked what they like best about the new equipment and space, dispatchers Katie Fox and Alyssa Rios, who were on duty when DailyTrib.com dropped by, said in unison: “Everything!”
“We have extra screens and more space to do what we need to do to help our officers,” said Fox, who has been a dispatcher for three years.
The new center moved from a space it has occupied since 1993 in the former jail-turned-sheriff’s office at 1601 E. Polk St. (Texas 29) in Burnet. The equipment dates to 2003.
“Twenty years is a long time on a radio system, especially with the advances we have now,” said Russel Kneese, who is in charge of the electronics and infrastructure at the center. “We are now part of the Greater Austin Travis Regional Radio system. Right now, that encompasses a full third of the state.”
The room it occupies was the kitchen in the county’s former jail. After the sheriff’s office remodeled and moved into the building, that room was home to the Emergency Operations Center. Once plans began for a new communications center, the EOC moved to the AgriLife Building at 607 N. Vandeveer in Burnet.
Jett calls it “the million-dollar room.” It cost about $850,000 just for the materials and equipment. Remodeling was done by the county. The equipment was paid for by the Capital Area Council of Governments, which is part of the Capital Area Emergency Communications District. Fees added to cellphone and residential phone bills finance CAPCOG projects. Burnet County provided the furniture.
“The increased communication ability allows us, in the event of a major incident either here or somewhere else, to tie our folks into it in a real-time manner,” Kneese said. “Recently, on Lake Travis on the Travis County line, we were involved, the (Lower Colorado River Authority) was involved, StarFlight, and Travis County were involved. We were able to park all those agencies on one channel. We did not have to have Travis County folks talking to Austin dispatch and then they talk to us. Everybody was able to talk to each other in real time.”
That’s not the only improvement, said Sgt. Natalie Flowers, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the communications center.
“A big difference is in just how radio traffic is being heard and understood by units in the field,” she said. “It’s much more clear, it’s crisper. We’ve been able to listen to our neighboring agencies, hear their traffic, and prepare our deputies.”
The Burnet County Sheriff’s Office plans an open house in the near future to invite the public for a tour and thank everyone involved in making the new communications center a reality. When that happens, you’ll find the details online at DailyTrib.com.