The first responders of our county have always done a great job assisting residents in need. The EF3 tornado of May 31, 2013, damaged thousands of properties and left tons of debris behind – and county government, law enforcement, fire and EMS all did their part in the recovery effort. The ability for St. Charles County to respond to any kind of emergency and help our citizens is extremely important. While the county’s Division of Emergency Management and police/fire/EMS dispatch make the best of their current facilities, the existing space imposes limits on stepping up the level of response in an emergency – especially in a large-scale, county-wide emergency. This is why the county is planning to build a new Emergency Communications and Operations Center.
There are a variety of issues with current space. The data center that supports the county’s emergency radio communications system, which allows first responders from various agencies and municipalities from across the county to communicate with each other and has gotten rave reviews since its launch, is in a temporary home that is not structurally hardened to protect it from natural disasters or other emergencies. In addition, our Division of Emergency Management’s existing Emergency Operations Center is in a small, cramped area in the basement of the Corrections facility where water leakage has been a problem, there is little room for new technology or space for local cities and organizations to meet and collaborate during an emergency, no room to accommodate the media, and is difficult for these outside parties to access and enter if needed. Finally, the existing police/fire/EMS dispatch facility has reached its physical limit due to continued department growth.
Recently, the County Executive and Administrator, several County Councilmen including myself, the County’s Police Chief and staff toured our existing Emergency Operations Center as well as St. Louis County’s Emergency Operations Center. When we saw St. Louis County’s center and the functional advantages of having all emergency communication operations under one, very secure and hardened building, we immediately saw the advantages in having this type of facility for St. Charles County.
Technology has changed and the need to step up response to save lives in a disaster necessitates change. Our first responders deserve our support as they deal with any kind of emergency. Plans are for St. Charles County’s new Emergency Communications and Operations Center to be located on land adjacent to the county Police Department and to have:
- A hardened data center to secure the emergency radio communications system
- Expanded technological capabilities
- Capabilities to sustain 24-hour operations
- On-site media room to provide better access to the press
- Ample meeting room space, including space for local cities and organizations to meet and collaborate and to have a call center if needed
Knowing that this will be a major project, county government has been saving up for a down payment and will have about a third of the expected cost in the bank. We are exploring construction methods to save costs but, at the same time, are committed to building a very secure, hardened structure with adequate space and technology to best serve our community. We plan on consulting with every law enforcement, fire, EMS and community organization that will use the facility for input as to the design of the building.
All of this will take time, work and money - but the lives and safety of county residents are on the line. As such, your county government will do whatever is needed to support the first responders we all count on in an emergency. Building a first-class, state-of-the-art, Emergency Communications and Operations Center is definitely needed.