MARIETTA - One year after a wind storm and resulting power outages demonstrated the need for an improved emergency operations center in Washington County, a new one is expected to be open.
County officials announced Thursday that $475,000 in funding will be used to renovate a portion of the offices at Washington County Family and Children Services in Marietta as the county's new Emergency Operations Center for use in times of crisis.
"It's always exciting to see things improving for citizens of the county," said County Commissioner Cora Marshall.
Originally located at the Washington County Sheriff's Office at 309 Fourth St., over the last year the county's emergency operations center was moved to the office of Washington County's EMA director Jeff Lauer at the county courthouse.
During the derecho that hit the area June 29, the county's emergency operations were moved back to an expanded area in the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
"Now, if there's an emergency, we gather up totes with supplies, hook up our radios and phones and ramp up (operations)," Lauer said. Dry erase boards and large note pads filled with information were photographed for record keeping during the June storm.
Upon completion of the EOC, "We'll have computers and better record keeping," said Lauer.
"This will make it a lot quicker and easier for everybody," he said.
In order to receive the recently awarded $237,500 emergency management performance grant from the Ohio Emergency Management Association, to match the $237,500 provided by the Washington County commissioners, the building that housed the EOC had to meet building code criteria, be out of the floodplain and have backup power with on-site fuel.
Of 25 such grant applications received by the Ohio EMA in 2013, Washington County was one of only 14 applications to be fully funded, said Nancy Dragani, Ohio EMA's executive director.
"(The floodplain requirement) was a challenge for Washington County because we're surrounded by rivers and creeks," said Marshall.
All the state's requirements were met at the Children Services' facility at 204 Davis Ave., according to Lauer.
What's more, the address is a convenient gathering spot for first responders.
"It's a good, central location...that will keep everybody better informed," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.
Construction costs for the county's EOC will be kept lower thanks to the layout of the Children Services' building.
"It will all be interior construction," said Lauer. "We may have to make a few modifications to the unfinished parts, like partitions for the center's rooms."
The EOC is expected to include a reception area, director's office, staff office, executive briefing room and radio room/backup dispatch.
The center will feature an open area where first responders can enter and quickly assess the status of emergency operations "so they can hit the ground running," said Eric Skomra, county information technology director.
When not in use for county, city, village, township or industrial emergencies, the EOC site will serve as a shared training facility for future emergencies.
"It is not a one-agency building," Lauer said. "It is a building for all to come to and work together."
According to Skomra, if the EOC were only used for emergencies, "It wouldn't stay up to date."
Completion of phase one of the EOC project will be "fast paced," said Lauer.
Next in the time line for the project will be a state-required environmental hazard analysis and interviews to find an architectural firm to facilitate the process of putting a design and cost structure in place, Skomra said.
Different, alternative EOC locations will continue to be available in Washington County.
"You always have to have a backup plan. If there's an incident on Davis Avenue, we may have to set up somewhere else," Lauer said.
The projected completion date for phase one renovations is June 30.
A future phase will include the acquisition of permanent equipment for the EOC.
The map that showed the layout of EOC included an area of the Children Services' building marked "Board of Elections."
According to Marshall, that location is "under consideration" as a possible relocation for the county's board of elections.
Approval for such a move would have to be granted by the Washington County commissioners, she said.