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Emergency Operations Center Debuts in Texas

SAN ANTONIO, Texas-- When tens of thousands of evacuees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita flooded a makeshift shelter at the former Kelly AFB, the city had no centralized command center from which to run operations for them.

Mayor Phil Hardberger recalled meeting in a room so crammed with local, state and federal emergency management officials that people had to stand in the hallway and listen through the open door.

But with the new joint city and county emergency operations center at Brooks City-Base, which officials dedicated Monday, everyone from first responders to politicians to the media will have work space.

Probably one of the best things we have is the Web EOC, which allows us to have a current status on all of the local and regional hospitals -- how many beds they have open and which hospitals don t have space -- so we know where people can be sent, said Scott Campbell, a training officer with the city s emergency operations department.

The 36,000-square-foot facility has a large command center, offices for the city and county emergency operations staff, a media briefing room, a policy room and space for regional medical operations support. City and county voters approved the funding through public-safety bond initiatives in 2003. The city paid $20.5 million, and the county paid $4 million.

We got a chance to see the need for this during the hurricanes, Hardberger said. This is like night and day with this wonderful facility.

The building also will permanently house the city s 311 customer service call center.

The spacious command room is built in three tiers, with small work pods that can be reconfigured to make larger stations if needed. Each station has at least three phones, laptop computers and a microphone to communicate with the entire room.

The focal point of the room is three large screens where maps, hospital and emergency response statistics and other data can be projected. On either side of the screens are four flat-panel TVs, where local and cable news can be watched.

Toward the back of the room are separate work spaces for public information officers, a policy room where politicians can meet and make decisions based on tactical input from emergency coordinators, a room for 311 operators and a room for regional medical representatives.

Although many cities have dedicated emergency operations facilities, speakers at the dedication ceremony wagered that San Antonio s is among the elite.

It may not be politically correct to identify who is No. 1, but this is No. 1, said Steve McCraw, the state s director of homeland security.

ljesse@express-news.net

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