By Martie Thompson
Have you ever wondered about the sizable building clearly visible on the west side of Interstate 95, just south of State Road 16? Known as the Emergency Communications and Training Center, it is the fruition of a years-long vision by leaders in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office to have a facility to accommodate multiple departments under one roof.
The building houses the Operations Division, which encompasses training, communications, special operations, and the marine and air units. Slightly over half of the building is dedicated to training functions and includes classrooms with state of the art technology, a defensive tactics room for physical training, and a simulator room, where specialty cameras project realistic situations on a screen for trainees to learn to assess and react quickly in life or death situations.
Behind the building is a driving track where deputies can practice PIT (pursuit intervention technique) maneuvers, a tactic by which a pursuing car can force a fleeing car to turn sideways abruptly, causing the driver to lose control and stop. Multiple gun ranges onsite provide for the most modern firearms training in a very controlled environment. Also on the property is a large retention pond, which in addition to providing drainage, also contains part of an old plane, a school bus, and a vehicle — all submerged to allow for practice drills for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office dive team.
Director of Operations Russ Martin said having the agency’s training available locally and in one place allows the sheriff’s office to save money on travel to out-of-county facilities.
“We can set the culture with new hires on the very first day on the job,” Martin said. “We provide training designed by us, for us, and given by us — plus we get to host it in our own county. We can leverage these cost savings to provide better customer service to our St. Johns County residents.”
Since the building also serves as the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office’s emergency management center, it needs to be self-sufficient. An expansive locker room as well as a full kitchen and dining room allow for 24-hour stays by essential personnel in the event of a natural disaster.
The remainder of the building is occupied by the Communications Center, which includes the 911 call center for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and St. Johns County Fire and Rescue, as well as dispatching for the St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach police departments. Public Safety Telecommunicators (PST), or 911 operators, work on shifts around the clock handling hundreds of 911 calls daily. Each station is set up with six large screens that allow the PST to access the phone system, multiple CAD (computer aided dispatch) screens, as well as maps that allow them to track the closest deputy to a call or determine the location of a call.
“All calls for service come through us,” said Communications Manager Nadyne Sneyd. “We have to answer a 911 call in 10 seconds or less. It’s busy all the time. I like to call it controlled chaos.”
Public Safety Telecommunicators transfer calls for fire or EMS to the St. Johns Fire and Rescue dispatchers, which share the room with them. Large screens on the wall of the Comm Center show Florida Department of Transportation cameras at the county’s busiest intersections, as well as a screen used to monitor the tracking devices of domestic violence offenders.
Next to the Comm Center is the Real Time Intelligence Center. Here, subject matter experts utilize the latest in technology for real time crime solving. They track crime as it is in progress in St. Johns County and relay their research to deputies in the field.
“Our intelligence analysts are civilians assigned as liaisons to investigative units as well as sworn detectives,” said George Harrigan, Lieutenant of Intelligence/Property Crimes.
Martin said that due to the increase in the county’s population as well as the desire to proactively hire for the future, more Public Safety Telecommunicators are needed and SJSO is actively hiring. He pointed out that PSTs are the first line of connectivity between service requested by a resident and the service that actually arrives at their door.
“Let us pay you a good salary including benefits, even while in training, and provide you a skill you can use in any organization,” Martin said he tells potential employees.
Requirements for the position include a high school diploma or GED equivalent, a valid Florida driver’s license, good moral character and the ability to work rotating 12-hour shifts. Visit www.sjso.org/careers for more information.
Photo courtesy Rhonda Ramos
The Emergency Communications and Training Center, located on Law Enforcement Way off Interstate 95.