Brookings debuts emergency center

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer March 29, 2013 09:38 pm

The nondescript building next to City Hall on Elk Drive in Brookings is not much to behold.

But it’s out of the tsunami inundation zone.

It can withstand winds of 170 miles an hour.

And it’s built to withstand an earthquake of at least 9.0 magnitude.

Now, the city’s Emergency Operation Center is sparsely furnished, but when the Cascadia Fault 30 miles offshore rips, it will be the lifeline for and heartbeat of the community, filled with people consulting maps and computers, compiling information and making plans.

“I’m pretty impressed,” said City Councilor Bill Hamilton, who along with scores of other citizens toured the facility Saturday. “It’s a great asset for Brookings. It’s one location where we can get together and plan.”

Here, operations will determine how people are rescued, fed and sheltered. When activated, city department heads, county officials, utility and emergency service providers and the American Red Cross will coordinate efforts to help citizens.

The sole door opens into a reception and office area, then a large central room, where electrical outlets are placed every 3 feet in the floor for computers and phones. Electricity, likely to have been knocked out in a disaster, will be created by generators that are supplied by fuel from city facilities around town.

The 2,335-square-foot building features a vaulted ceiling to dampen sound. Thick insulation further muffles it. Even the space between the walls and video screens is designed to deaden echoes.

The $416,000 building — funded primarily with a $350,000 grant — was designed in part by the city’s Technical Services Supervisor Tony Baron, who holds a master’s degree in architecture.

“I really wanted to make it awesome,” he said. “When everything’s in here — the video screens, the computers, phones, 911, dispatch — the operations room is the heart.”

Video screens can be lowered on both sides, to let the 18 to 25 emergency planners figure out what is happening where — and more importantly, what to do about it.

Another room is dedicated to communications surrounding the incident, ham radio operators and 911 dispatchers to assist their counterparts next door at the police station.

A third room is exclusively for maps — the city, the state, the ocean.

It was built because when the “big one” goes, Brookings and Harbor residents are going to be on their own — for a lot longer than originally anticipated, if new reports are accurate. Now, residents on the isolated coast need to plan to be self-sufficient for up to seven weeks.

“Medford is worried about being isolated, if Interstate 5 goes,” said City Manager Gary Milliman. “We’re going to be on our own for a lot longer than most people think.”

Original estimates, based on suggestions to have at least a three-day supply of food, won’t be enough. Food shipments arrive here about three times a week, meaning grocery stores will be out of food within a matter of days — and that’s not taking into account the likely rush on stores and hoarding that could occur.

The EOC is one of multiple infrastructure plans the city has implemented to prepare itself for that disaster.

The communications tower was built so the southernmost end of the county doesn’t have to depend on 911 towers in Gold Beach, which likely will be wiped out themselves. Emergency generators have been installed at the city’s water source, fire department, police station and city hall. One of the fire engines was even retrofitted to carry more water and personnel. City employees have undergone national training for their respective roles in a disaster.

A 1-million gallon water storage tank at the airport, to be built this summer, will do more than supply more pressure to the city’s entire system: It could provide precious supplies when the Chetco River is churning with everything from silt to trees, to cars and building pieces.

“That’s the underlying concern: Increased capacity in the event of a disaster and being independent,” Milliman said. “It’s a major piece of our ability to respond to disaster.”

Future preparation will concentrate on the city’s old water system and shoring up the hillside on which the water treatment facility sits. City staff is currently evaluating pipes throughout the system and prioritizing them for replacement.

And then the push will begin to get people to know their neighbors.

City officials hope to get this neighborhood and home preparation program started in mid-2014. It involves people meeting people, knowing what each other has — such as a chainsaw — or does as a career, say home nursing care, that will keep the community be self-sufficient.

It’s not out of the equation that if an emergency arises, those personnel might not respond — providers themselves might not be able to get out of their own neighborhoods.

“FEMA doesn’t show up offering checks,” Milliman said. “We will be on our own. We need to do better preparation in-home and in our neighborhoods. If we (residents) can deal with those needs, the less we (planners) will have to develop a system to deliver services.”