Wasilla City Council

MATCOM communications manager Jacob Butcher, dispatcher Amy French and Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle pose for a photo during a Wasilla City Council meeting.

WASILLA — The Wasilla City Council heard updates on telecommunications and power provided in the city of Wasilla.

The Wasilla Police Department took over MATCOM dispatch in 2017 and began fielding 911 calls to dispatch Fire Departments, EMS and Police across the entire Mat-Su Borough including the Copper Valley area. Communications Director for MATCOM Jacob Butcher provided the council with an update on the improving location information provided by working with phone companies.

“We’re receiving much more information with much quicker results on 911 calls for the whole area. We also get a visual representation on our maps on our dispatch consoles,” said Jacob Butcher. “That’s a huge leap forward in the 911 industry for the entire state.”

Previous to the completion of phase one and two of this project, MATCOM dispatchers received no useful information from calls in the Copper River Valley and had to find out the location of the 911 call during the discussion with the caller. Butcher played a short clip of a three and a half minute call from that area to illustrate the difficulty in getting a location from someone frantically calling 911.

“I just wanted to reiterate to the council what a massive leap forward this was in the 911 industry for Southcentral Alaska,” said Jacob Butcher.

Verizon was the first cell phone carrier to verify location of calls from their cell towers in the summer of 2018 and GCI followed in may of 2019. The largest cell phone carrier in the state AT&T just finished testing location data with MATCOM and personally thanked tech support specialist Joel Butcher for making the completion of the project possible. Joel Butcher presented with Jacob Butcher.

“Now we get very accurate location information from cell phones in the Copper Valley area from those 3 cell phone providers, very accurate. If you’re in McCarthy or happen to be and make a 911 call we can pinpoint your location to within about five meters,” said Joel Butcher.

Over 2,600 people live in the 24,000 square miles of the Copper River Valley.

“That is something to note on this project as well, It didn’t cost the city or MATCOM any more investment other than time spent on the project and it didn’t cost the city any additional funds and it didn’t cost the state any additional funds,” said Jacob Butcher.

The Council also heard an update from Matanuska Electric Association on the upcoming construction at the Herning substation behind Mat-Su Central School. The major upgrade from a half acre to two acres is set to break ground in August.

“The Herning substation already exists here in Wasilla. It has been serving this growing load for decades and as the load gets bigger we need to expand the substation to account for that growth,” said MEA Senior Director of External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives Julie Estey. “The project that we’re doing here at Herning captures a significant number of the benefits that we were trying to achieve with the Wasilla transmission line and so we’re moving forward with this project so that we can achieve some of the benefits. For instance, accommodating the growing load as well as this project allows for us to what we call sectionalize, so separate out sections of the line so that any sort of outage on the transmission line doesn’t take out this critical load.”

After breaking ground in August for dirtwork, electrical work will begin in September and continue into early May. The upgrade of the Herning substation provides additional redundancy for MEA and prevents the necessity of taking a breaker offline for maintenance.

“One of the bigger things that we’re doing is we’re putting in a breaker and a half scheme which means that we will now be able to accept two transmission lines into the substation. So it sectionalizes it in that way that we can route power in either direction coming into the substation, so that’s good news,” said Project Manager Jason Hann. “As you guys know we’ve been experiencing a lot more lightning in the last couple of years so we are adding lightning protection to this substation. It’s not super common in the area but we are making it part of our standards moving forward so that we can eliminate that risk.”

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