Lexington Creating New Disaster Operations Headquarters

Feb. 19--Lexington plans to build a permanent disaster headquarters that would be operational by 2010, just in time for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The new, state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Centers, which will be part of a regional public safety complex, will be at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Campus. Construction on the $14 million EOC could begin early next year, with a completion date of mid- to late-2009 so the city has time to test the facility before the start of the World Equestrian Games.

"We want it up, operational and functional before you would put something like that on-line in the face of the big event," said Charlie Boland, the city's acting chief administrative officer.

After searching for a site for close to three years, the city is about to sign a 100-year, $735,000 lease with UK for 7 acres at Coldstream. The city plans to pay for the lease through a bond. Money has not yet been set aside for design and construction of the new emergency center; the city hopes to apply for state and federal dollars to help.

If the lease is approved by the Urban County Council, the land would be used for a $21 million to $22 million regional public safety complex which includes the EOC, administrative offices, an enhanced 911 call center, storage space for the police department's emergency response vehicles and an area where police vehicles are fitted with equipment.

The first phase, and the most critical piece of the complex, will be a 30,000-square-foot building with space for a permanently set-up EOC, the nerve center for public safety officials during crises, such as the 2003 ice storm.

Currently, the EOC, which is activated after emergencies and disasters, is in the training room of the police department on Main Street.

"If we had a big event in the community and have to set up the EOC, we have to undo a room at the police department and it takes about two hours to set the EOC up," Boland said. "That's just unacceptable when you're in a mode to respond quickly in a disaster."

Cities must have a permanent EOC to be eligible for many homeland security, public safety and Federal Emergency Management Agency grant dollars, Boland said.

In addition to the EOC, the building will also house a combined police and fire dispatch center, the city's Division of Environmental and Emergency Management or DEEM, and showers and beds needed to accommodate people working 24 hours a day at the EOC during emergencies.

The city also plans to provide office space to Kentucky Emergency Management's area manager, and to make the EOC available to neighboring counties if needed.

"If the state and some other county close to us needed to use that facility as a backup or as an enhancement to theirs, there will be room to do it," said Pat Dugger, the city's DEEM director. "There's also room, if we had a major event, for the feds to come in and at least have a presence in the building."

Lexington's offer to make its EOC available to surrounding counties is an enhancement of the mutual-aid agreement that's already in place among Central Kentucky counties, said Keith Slugantz, director of Disaster and Emergency Management in Woodford County.

Although Woodford County has its own permanent EOC, Lexington's facility could be used as a communication tool in getting accurate information out to the public about incidents such as an ice storm or a train wreck, he said.

A regional EOC will also be beneficial with the forthcoming World Equestrian Games, since the games will affect all of Central Kentucky, Slugantz said. "It would be a good thing for us to have that."

Work on the rest of the public safety complex should begin within two years of the EOC's completion, Boland said.

<<Lexington Herald-Leader (KY) (KRT) -- 02/20/07>>