CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County has a new multi-million dollar E-911 center, and News13 took an exclusive look at how the new system and building will help impact public safety far beyond the borders of Horry County.

The center opened in late January at the Randall S. Webster Emergency Operations and Communications Center in Conway. 500,000 emergency calls are expected in Horry County this year, and this center is now where that life-saving help begins.

The director of the center, Renee Hardwick, gave News13’s Meghan Miller a tour of the state-of-the-art center that she designed with her nearly 70-person team in mind.

Hardwick says the new center’s better consoles, more space, a quiet room and even natural light are already making a difference.

“It’s a completely different vibe in this new center because they’re happy,” Hardwick said. “They’re smiling and you can hear it in their voices, and we’re amazed at that.”

34 dispatchers can work in the building at the same time, up from just 16 at its old center off Elm Street.

The new technology and internet they’re using to help you is also pushing Horry County towards “next generation 911”.

“People don’t realize that the technology that 911 rides on — or used to ride on for us, but still does ride on for the majority of the country is 55 years old,” Hardwick said.

When a natural disaster hits, this building is mission critical for Horry County. Hardwick says “everything” was thought of to make it self-sufficient 24/7.

“We have a generator that’s going to last longer — the same thing with the water system,” Hardwick said. “We have a kitchen we didn’t have in our old facility, so we’ll be able to feed our folks.”

Hardwick says that ultimately, the investment in this new center reaches far beyond Horry County. Agencies across the nation want to model their new facilities from it, and departments and vendors now want to train there.

“That’s the beauty of 911. We’re not territorial at all,” Hardwick said. “We will share our mistakes quicker than our successes because we want everybody to be successful in 911.”

In the end, that’s what benefits everyone.

“It’s a very stressful job, but it’s very rewarding in that you get to help people,” Hardwick said.

Hardwick says that E-911 staffing is in the best shape it’s been in the past five or six years. Horry County still has 12 openings and plans to hire this spring.

Luckily for them, strategic “free space” in the building will allow for growth without issue. As for the old center in downtown Conway, that will be used for training and as a back-up facility.

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