The Cumberland County Regional Communication Center on High Street at the border of Windham and Gorham made a vertical move on Tuesday, Dec. 19.

A new center has been constructed on top of the subterranean bunker that the communications center currently shares with the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency.

The communications center receives both E-911 calls and dispatch calls for several towns in Cumberland County.

The center serves as a Public Safety Answering Point that receives E-911 calls and either handles them or transfers them to town dispatch centers.

In addition, the communications center serves as a dispatch center for the towns of Gorham, Baldwin, Gray, New Gloucester, Harpswell, Long Island and Frye Island. Police, fire and ambulance calls are received and emergency personnel are dispatched by the operator, known as a “communication officer.”

Director William Holmes said several other towns are considering joining with the communications center as well.

By having towns share a centralized call center, the number of communication officers required to be on duty goes down, Holmes said.

“For many communities, it’s a substantial savings,” said Holmes.

At any given time, Holmes said, 30 communication officers are on duty in Cumberland County. With centralizing, that number could be cut back to 20.

The new building has been built “with security in mind,” said Holmes, who declined to reveal details of security improvements.

Construction began last January and cost around $1.5 million, Holmes said. Most of that was funded by the county.

Poor air quality and cramped space is what pushed the communications center to move out, Holmes said. Because the old facility was shared with the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency new walls were constructed inside to create offices and divide the two departments.

“The addition of the walls deteriorated the air quality,” said Holmes. Air flow was obstructed by the new walls, which will be knocked down when the emergency management agency retakes the rest of the building.

Holmes said the decision to build on top of the current location was motivated by a desire to save money by using existing land, and a desire to maintain a close relationship with the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency.

The new center has work stations for 20 communication officers. Each call station has independent climate controls and a grid of flat-screen displays. The stations are ergonomically designed, Holmes said, and can be adjusted for height with the push of a button.

Also in the new center are lockers and a treadmill. Holmes said these features were added because his department is concerned with employee health and fitness.

A wall in the back is designed to be knocked down so work stations for an additional 20 communication officers can be added if needed.

The shared facility was constructed in the late 50s during the Cold War as a civil defense bunker in reaction to “the threat of missile destruction,” said George Flaherty, director of the Cumberland County EMA.

“Portland was a first-strike target,” Flaherty said. The core of a small hill was blasted apart and the bunker-like structure was built inside. Grass was replanted on top so the building would be difficult to spot from the cockpit of an attack bomber.

With its two-foot-thick concrete walls wrapped in earth, the building was made to withstand detonation and radiation attacks while housing about 40 government employees. Originally, the station housed personal poised to act in the case of an attack by the Soviets. Flaherty said in the 1970s and 1980s as that scenario became less likely, its purpose evolved into the current use.

There were only four or five of these structures built in Maine, Flaherty said. The Windham one is the only one still in use. Lack of maintenance, combined with the mold and dampness associated with subterranean buildings, have rendered the others unusable.

Bunker1: The new Cumberland County Regional Communication Center in Windham. The older facility, hidden in the ground underneath, was built when the biggest threat of attack came from bomber planes that spotted targets by human eye.Bunker2: Verizon special service technician Bud Hemingway of Westbrook stands in front of one of the new work stations inside the new Cumberland County Regional Communication Center in Windham. Hemingway was there to install 911 telephone equipment.Bunker3: Communication officers Mike Poirier (left) and Michael Foley at their current work stations inside the old communication center built inside a hill on High Street. The new facility the agency will move into on Dec. 19 is located directly above.

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