About a year from now, Frankfort will have its third Emergency Operations Center – a distinction few towns of its size are likely to share. Ground was broken Tuesday for a 26,150-square-foot installation connecting to the 1970s state EOC at the Boone National Guard Center. City government’s Public Safety Facility on Second Street doubles as a local EOC and headquarters for police and fire departments.
The latest plan to update state and local disaster preparedness comes at a time when weather emergencies seem to be growing in frequency and intensity. There’s concern that global climate change, exacerbated by human-induced recomposition of Earth’s atmosphere through fossil-fuel combustion, will bring much more of the same.
This spring has been unusually warm and stormy in Kentucky. Groundbreaking for the new emergency management facility was originally scheduled for March but had to be called off because of the March 2 outbreak of tornadoes that killed 22 people across the commonwealth. The center is designed to survive an F4 tornado with 200-mph winds.
Its predecessor dates to an era when nuclear war seemed a more worrisome threat than disastrous weather, so it has fallout protection. The massive concrete walls are also designed for earthquake resistance in case the New Madrid fault were to repeat the 1811-1812 tectonic shift that made the Mississippi River flow backwards and damaged buildings over much of the East.
A more recent concern is international and domestic terrorism. The new building will have concrete barriers, with military troops on standby to impede any troublemakers trying to make a violent political statement in the capital city.
The construction plan stems in part from a disaster that occurred three years ago. The 2009 ice storm left parts of western Kentucky without electricity for weeks that winter and emergency officials holed up in the command center realized it was woefully undersized, its communications all but obsolete. Scattered units of the Division of Emergency Management will consolidate in the new facility, prepared for immediate action in catastrophes to come.
The added space and upgraded technology will be useful. “We’ll be able to gather more information, make better decisions, move out faster,” said Brig. Gen. John Heltzel, director of the emergency division.
The federal government is paying most of the $9.8 million construction cost. Frankfort’s Public Safety Facility ran around $11 million, incurring a local debt that many considered excessive. But Mayor Gippy Graham praised his predecessor Bill May’s pet project after spending two hectic days there during the ice storm.
When the new state center is complete, it should be prepared for the worst, to the extent the worst is predictable. We fervently hope it never has to face the ultimate test.