The new home of Allegheny County’s emergency services is no stranger to handling serious situations.
Ten years ago, while still operating as a flight operations control center for US Airways, employees there were involved in emergency operations related to Flight 1549, the famous “Miracle on the Hudson” landing captained by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. In fact, the center took a call from Sully within 30 minutes after he ditched his Airbus A320 in the river off Manhattan.
During a tour with federal, state and county officials and the media on Friday, Allegheny County officials pointed out the room where emergency operations took place during the famous flight. And while the building no longer houses flight operations, the serious nature of business conducted there continues.
Nestled on Pittsburgh International Airport property a few miles east of the terminal, the new 9-1-1 center is a state-of-the-art emergency services facility that officials said will benefit public safety for the region and the airport.
Matt Brown, chief of the county’s emergency services, said the new facility is a huge improvement from the dated, cramped former site in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood.
“We were nearing end-of-life on the technology at the (former) location,” Brown said. “We see the future of 9-1-1 in the (state) to be regional – not necessarily just county-driven. We planned and built for that today.”
In the ribbon-cutting ceremony outside, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was joined by U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, state Sen. Pam Iovino, former state Sen. Randy Vulakovich and Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis, among others. Inside, 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers were busy handling the county’s most serious situations at that moment, including reports of a road rage incident, a possible hit-and-run and a stolen car.
The center – which the county will lease long-term from the airport authority – takes more than 3,000 calls a day. Brown said the proximity to the airport is beneficial.
“Our operations are expanding and contracting all the time, not only to meet the needs of the county or municipality but the region. This facility offers that same capability to the airport,” Brown said.
“While there’s an emergency operations center there, an expanding incident may really require that that operation come to here.”
Airport Authority Fire Chief Tim Holmes agreed.
“If there’s a large-scale incident on airport property, this allows us to expand our emergency operations center to handle all of the representatives that need to be in that room to manage that incident,” Holmes said. “We can expand out to here with seamless communication to the airport.”
The $30 million building opened in 2008 as a state-of-the-art facility for US Airways flight operations. It closed in 2015 after the airline merged with American Airlines.
The Airport Authority bought the 60,000-square-foot facility in 2016 from American for $1.87 million, an agreement that Cassotis called a great deal.
“I thank them for helping to make this emergency services center a reality for our region,” she said.