In 2018, St. Charles County opened a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC) adjacent to the St. Charles County Police Department in O’Fallon. Home to St. Charles County Regional Emergency Management, the Department of Emergency Communications, and a data center for the Information Systems department, the facility quickly became vital to managing county-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the event of an emergency or disaster, the County’s EOC brings emergency services functions together into one location for a more efficient and coordinated response to any type of crisis that affects our county. Every day, however, it is home to the departments mentioned above. The $24 million, 30,000 square-foot building built in 2018 can withstand an EF-4 tornado and remain fully operational without electricity, water or sewer for three days. The EOC “activates” when there is a local emergency or disaster, as it has with the COVID-19 pandemic and recent flooding.
In early 2020, County administration, Regional Emergency Management, the Department of Public Health, and community and local partners began meeting at the EOC to plan for COVID-19 response. When the first case of the virus was identified in the St. Louis metro area on March 7, the Incident Command Center was activated. This facility has made a significant difference in how we have been able to communicate, react and respond during this pandemic.
Prior to the EOC being constructed, Regional Emergency Management was located in a cramped space in the basement of the Justice Center (County Jail) in St. Charles, and Emergency Communications was housed in Wentzville. While the County Council knew the facility was a necessary investment for the safety of the county, handling an emergency activation of the magnitude of this pandemic has further solidified its necessity. County departments, first responders, emergency services personnel, and nonprofits from across the community gathered in the facility for the first four months of the pandemic to coordinate and execute the initial response. The spacious EOC floor and numerous meeting rooms facilitated prompt communication and decision-making while allowing these frontline workers to adequately social distance.
State-of-the art technology – from the ability to stream real-time pandemic information from media outlets and key websites on large monitors across the facility, to conference call and virtual meeting capabilities – have helped tremendously with planning and response. While Emergency Communications dispatchers and staff operate in a separate area of the EOC, being in the same proximity as responders is helpful in managing issues related to the pandemic. The separate, and larger workspace enables dispatchers to follow social distancing guidelines as well.
Most of us have never seen a pandemic like this in our lifetime and hopefully most of us never will again. However, I am grateful we made the investment in the EOC to more efficiently and effectively protect our community. Our response to all emergencies and disasters is greatly enhanced because of what this building and its technology brings to our county.
Finally, I would like to take an opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to everyone involved in the pandemic response. I know each and every one of you have worked countless hours over the past five months and we still have a long road ahead. I am proud and impressed with your efforts to keep our residents safe.
By the Numbers: Learn more about the EOC, Regional Emergency Management, and Emergency Communications.