The “gridlock of bodies” emergency management officials dealt with while responding to the 2009 ice storm showed the age of a Cold War-era facility, Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini said Monday at the opening of the new state Emergency Operations Center.
Gov. Steve Beshear and the national director of the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security had to step over Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers teams working in a stairwell. Officials rented portable air conditioners to cool the EOC’s cramped main room despite the fact that the temperature outside fell below zero.
Those issues have been resolved with the opening of a new $11.8 million, 26,150-square-foot command center, state and emergency management officials said.
“This facility is a huge step toward bringing Kentucky’s emergency operations to where it’s going to need to be in this 21st century,” Beshear said.
The new EOC is about three times larger than its predecessor and can accommodate 220 responders during emergencies. The facility features a number of meeting rooms and workstations, state-of-the-art communications technology and an 800-kilowatt backup generator in case of power failure.
Tonini toured more than 20 similar facilities across the country, and he said the new EOC is as good or better than those he visited.
“I’m very enthusiastic about this new EOC and the effect it will have on Kentucky’s ability to respond in the future,” Tonini said.
Emergency officials responded to 11 federally declared natural disasters — including an unprecedented ice storm in 2009 that cut power to parts of Kentucky for weeks, historic flooding in 2011 and a string of tornadoes in 2012 that flattened the city of West Liberty — since 2008 from the first EOC, which was built in 1974.
The ice storm was particularly eye opening for emergency management officials. More than 100 counties declared emergencies during the storm, and Tonini recalled the shoulder-to-shoulder working conditions as state and federal agents worked in the antiquated facility.
“I remember at that time telling the governor that we needed to do something about our facilities,” Tonini said. “Well, here we are today, governor.”
The EOC came in $400,000 under budget, with about $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, according to figures provided by the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs. The department and the Office of Homeland Security paid the remainder.
Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Lori Flanery also announced a $45 million upgrade to the Kentucky Emergency Warning System, a communications network in 148 locations across the state. Warning system towers have been reinforced and upgraded to digital technology after operating on a microwave system, she said.
“We now have backup power, remote monitoring and remote research capabilities, which can be really helpful as you’re trying to figure out exactly what type of an emergency you have,” Flanery said. “As you know, we’ve had every single kind over the last few years.”