County opens new Emergency Operations Center

County opens new Emergency Operations Center

Local elected officials, community members, and members of the Fayette County Emergency Agency gathered on Thursday to celebrate the opening of a new, $1 million facility that, if all goes well, won’t get used very often. The Emergency Operations Center that was unveiled is designed for “high impact events,” like natural disasters, or something like the “Snowmageddon” ice event that paralyzed the metro Atlanta area last year.

The cost of the facility was almost completely covered through a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Pete Nelms, Division Chief for Fayette County Fire and Emergency Services, was credited for a dogged pursuit of the grant. GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency) representatives at Thursday’s unveiling continually praised his perseverance, saying he applied for the grant five years straight before getting the answer he wanted.

“This was all funded through a big grant, which is a big deal,” County Administrator Steve Rapson said.

Construction of the 4,800 square-foot facility took around a year. The cost of building and equipping the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was around $1,100,000 with $950,000 covered by the FEMA grant.

The Center is designed to support all the local agencies, which typically need to cooperate to some level in major crisis situations.

“It can also accommodate those employees working in the facility for extended periods of time such as the recent ice event in 2014 that lasted several days and necessitated command staff employees to work around the clock until the recovery process was completed,” a press release said about the facility. Showers, a kitchen and rest areas allow for multi-day stays if necessary.

The facility includes banks of computers designated for different agencies as well as wall mounted monitors that can provide important up-to-date information.

County Fire Chief David Scarbrough praised the high level of equipment and the overall quality of the facility.

“We are very pleased with the functionality of the facility and would like to thank both the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the funding and grant administration that they provided. This facility will serve the needs of the department and those that work in the Emergency Operations Center well into the future, and it will also help provide better coordination during the inevitable future disasters that Fayette County will experience,” Scarbrough said.

While the hope is that the facility is little used for actual crises, it will be used to train for such events.

Nelms explained to Fayette Newspapers that the county has had five officially declared disasters since 1990: a blizzard, a flood, two tropical storms and an ice storm. He said those are just the events that were declared disasters at the federal level. Other large scale events, he said, would also have required the use of the EOC.

Prior to the establishment of this facility, the EOC building was only 600 square feet and sometimes had to accommodate over twenty people, Nelms said. The added space and much improved technology will be extremely helpful for effective crisis/disaster management, he said.