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Examiner
  • Top 5: City/county emergency center

  • Five aspects of the joint Jackson County/city of Independence emergency operations center, which was officially dedicated Friday. The 5,000-square-foot facility is at Independence Fire Station No. 1 at Spring Street and U.S. 24, next to McCoy Park.

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  • Five aspects of the joint Jackson County/city of Independence emergency operations center, which was officially dedicated Friday. The 5,000-square-foot facility is at Independence Fire Station No. 1 at Spring Street and U.S. 24, next to McCoy Park.
    It’s in a secure facility, strong enough to withstand the worst weather, and it’s full of equipment to monitor weather and other situations. If need be, top city and county officials could go there with their laptops, plug in and run their local governments.
    1. Local cooperation.
    “We have some very good things – very little ego involved,” said Mike Curry, Jackson County’s director of emergency preparedness and homeland security.
    Dante Gliniecki, statewide volunteer coordinator of the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, said communities looking at emergency management have to address four things – mitigation, preparation, response and recovery – and said no one is doing that better than city and county officials in Jackson County.
    “This facility will add a tremendous amount of capability in that cooperative effort,” he said.
    2. The cost – in dollars and hours.
    The facility cost $373,333, but that’s only a partial accounting. The city matched a $250,000 federal grant with $83,333, and the county contributed $40,000.
    But Independence Emergency Preparedness Manager Frank Coots stressed that another 18,000 volunteer hours – many of them given by plumbers, electricians, welders and IT experts – also helped tremendously. Counting those at the FEMA volunteer rate of $17.49 an hour would add another $300,000-plus to the pricetag.
    “We have some very talented volunteers,” Coots said.
    Next to the center is an emergency shelter that could be used by people at McCoy Park or even nearby residents. A similar but larger shelter is being built at George Owens Park. The cost for both is $1.7 million.
    Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders said Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II was instrumental in winning the federal funds for the operations center.
    “He went to work in Washington, D.C., to bring dollars back home,” Sanders said.
    Cleaver, who has consistently criticized spending cuts under what Congress calls sequestration, said this is a good example of government working to protect people, without regard to party or ideology.
    “But I think this is a good day,” Cleaver said. “I wish I could have my colleagues here watching.”
    The facility has been under construction to some degree for a couple of years, and then last month’s first planned ribbon cutting was postponed because of heavy snow – the possibility of which was hanging in the air again Friday.
    “We knew that if we pushed it off one more time, such as in July, we would have eight inches of snow,” Coots quipped.
    3. Volunteers are the backbone of local emergency management efforts.
    Page 2 of 2 - At times, the emergency operations center has been activated dozens of times a year, almost always for severe weather. But it also was in operation, in a backup but ready role, during last year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. This weekend, for example, Curry said volunteers will be at the center keeping an eye on the weather, ready to bring in Coots, himself or volunteers if conditions warrant.
    The city and county have developed a cadre of volunteers, helping at the center and in the field. For example, Curry said, thanks to donations from T Mobile, if there was a missing child officials could fill an 18-person van with volunteers equipped with phones and seven-inch pads. There’s even a helicopter drone that could be used for search and rescue, and there’s a mobile cell-phone tower.
    “We can totally gear up in 30 minutes. ... It’s mostly volunteers,” Curry said.
    4. National model.
    Gliniecki also cited Jackson County’s efforts to involve faith-based organizations in emergency preparedness. That’s being implemented statewide and has won the attention of Gov. Jay Nixon and of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a national model.
    “What goes on here affects the state, and it really affects the nation,” he said.
    5. Helping neighbors.
    Most emergencies are weather related and close to home, but Gliniecki pointed out that the New Madrid fault in southeast Missouri poses the state’s biggest risk of a catastrophic disaster. When the big earthquake happens, officials say, tens of thousands of people could be coming here for food and shelter, at least initially.
    “And the effort would be centered right here,” he said.
    Sanders said the Joplin tornado and other events show how important it is to be ready to respond.
    “No one city, no one state can do it alone,” he said.
     
     
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