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Flagler’s Emergency Operations Center at 10 Years: A Few Fires, 5 Managers, Zero Hurricanes

| April 30, 2016

Flagler emergency operations center

As emergencies are rare, the Emergency Operations Center is more routinely the chosen location of government and public safety meetings. (c FlaglerLive)

Flagler County’s Emergency Operations Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Friday. Don’t term it old: it’s equipped to meet the county needs well into the future.

The Flagler County Commission in April 2005 voted to build what was then expected to be a 25,300 square foot, $5.5 million facility, more than double the original earmark of $2.1 million: commissioners wanted a facility good for at least 10 years to accommodate what was then explosive growth in the county. Flagler was for two years running, in the mid-2000s, the fastest-growing county in the nation. The housing bust began to show its first signs in 2006.

When the EOC opened its doors, the News-Journal reported the building’s cost had grown to $7.8 million. (A county news release marking the 10th anniversary, issued Friday, put the cost at $3.5 million.) It was symbolic of a time when the county saw no end to its growth and no need to restrain its capital spending. The center was part of an enormous building spree in the county, paid for through a $63.4 million in a pair of bond issues and $28 million from other county funds. The commission approved the bond in June 2004. The money built the courthouse, with its own multi-million cost overruns, and the ostentatious Government Services Building, among other additions. The GSB would soon be dubbed Flagler’s “Potato Palace.”

The first Emergency Operations Center was established in 1988 inside a portion of the former courthouse annex building and limited to 2,400 square feet.

“The catalyst for a new EOC was the 2004 hurricanes,” said Emergency Management Technician Bob Pickering, who has worked for Flagler County since 1994. “We moved into a temporary facility in November of 2005 before moving here in 2006.”

The current Emergency Operations Center is  built to withstand 180 mph winds. The operations room alone is equal in size to the former operations center. Ironically, Florida hasn’t been struck by a hurricane in a decade–the entire life of the operations center–though it’s suffered through its share of wildfire seasons, most notably in 2011, when Gov. Rick Scott dropped in at the operations center, which was the nerve center of an operation involving some 200 firefighters from northeast

“We started to move into the building early in April 2006, but the building wasn’t dedicated until April 29,” said Flagler County Fire Rescue Chief Don Petito. “The first activation of the new facility was during the May 2007 wildfires.”

Florida. But it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Emergency Operations Center has known more emergency services managers (or directors) than actual emergencies–Doug Wright, Nathan McCollum, Troy Harper, Kevin Guthrie, and now  Steve Garten.

It wasn’t until August 2008 when Tropical Storm Fay hit that the Emergency Operations Center was put into its first full 24-hour operation. The center itself has had a few emergencies of its own: one sprinkler mishap caused a shut-down of the 911 center for a few days in 2011. The following year a minor fire caused the center to be evacuated. Last year the 911 center was again briefly evacuated when an exit sight combusted, the same year the 911 system went dark because of a malfunction. 

The Flagler County Emergency Operations Center houses the 9-1-1 call center, a television station, a radio station to accommodate the county’s partnership with Flagler Broadcasting, and an inter-operability communications center capable of interfacing with various communications systems including amateur and GMRS (general mobile radio service) radios. Additionally, it has a self-contained kitchen and sleeping quarters for 22. The building is also headquarters to Flagler County Fire Rescue.

“This is a very nice building,” said Garten. “I have worked incidents all around the country and the details of our center were well thought out.”

Take a virtual tour of the facility at www.flagleremergency.com.

 

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