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DPS has a full-scale backup PennComm and situation room, enabling it to stay in contact emergency situations.

Credit: Helen Fetaw

What would happen if the entire Penn Police Department’s security communication system went dark due to a simple power outage or a natural disaster? Naturally, the Division of Public Safety has a backup site just in case.

One night, the electricity at the DPS building on 4040 Chestnut St. failed to power its central communications center, known as PennComm — due to the avid wire-chewing of a rebellious squirrel. The Penn Police dispatchers were cut off from their closed-circuit television security camera feeds as electrical failures came one after another. However, DPS didn’t miss a beat and were able to seamlessly retain communications and security throughout campus due to its backup site.

DPS has a little-known, full-scale backup PennComm center and situation room built out of the Pennovation Center at 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue. Alongside Penn’s autonomous robot-testing site and detection dog-training center is a fully equipped backup Penn Police station ready to secure campus in case of any emergency.

Development of the backup center was initiated with Penn’s acquisition of the Pennovation Center about three and a half years ago. The satellite location is fully functional and is ready as a backup for the PennComm center in the event of any fire, flood or loss of power.

“One of the things that we do in the public safety world is we always look at worst case scenarios,” Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said. “You don’t want to have all of your operations in one building and then lose functionality in that building.”

Rush said that the center was large enough to be a collaborative backup site along with Drexel Police resources, making the satellite station an alternate command system for both Penn and Drexel security communication centers. Penn Police dispatchers and supervisors test the site’s reliability regularly by performing emergency drills and relocations to the center.

“You only have to have one or two uses of this kind of backup system to get your return on investment,” Rush said. “Think of it as an insurance policy — if you need it, it’s there.”

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