Construction on the nearly $4 million, 12,000-square-foot facility off Tilley Road finished in April, providing a place poised for action in the case of earthquakes, snowstorms, floods or other disasters.
“Now it just depends on how soon we can get people in here,” said Kathy Estes, county emergency management manager. “The technology is there.”
Before that happens, the building must be included as the primary center in the county’s emergency management plan. That won’t happen until final audio-visual equipment is in place; installation began this week.
January’s snow and ice storm and Hurricane Sandy highlighted the need for the new facility, said engineering services manager Brent Payton.
The old Emergency Coordination Center is off Pacific Avenue, a shared space with the Thurston County 911 emergency services center. Equipment, including phones and computers, is stored in bins requiring up to two hours of set-up when disaster strikes.
In the case of the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001, it took an hour for phone lines to be correctly routed and two hours before the center was fully functional, officials say.
The new space off Tilley Road has tables set into pods with phones, laptops and other necessities for emergency responders.
Volunteers and staffers already have participated in two large-scale drills since the building opened in April.
“We learned a few things we needed to repair,” Estes said. “One of those things we learned was no matter how many computers you have, if you don’t have one for each person, they don’t feel in control.”
While having computers for every volunteer isn’t in the budget, the design of the building provided areas for personal computers to be hooked up to the system, including WiFi access.
The new center is built on the same campus as the new Thurston County Public Works buildings on Tilley Road, where 170 to 175 county employees work.
Construction of the entire campus, including the emergency center, cost about $21 million, Estes said.
The campus was planned before the economic fallout of 2008; the county commissioners approved it in October 2010. Construction began the following month.
The original plan was to have the emergency center at the same site as public works, formerly part of the emergency planning department.
The county chose to move forward with the project, but layoffs and department reorganizations have left a few places in the new facility empty for use as storage.
The campus features three new buildings, the emergency center, a main public works building and a storage bay, as well as two existing buildings.
The newer buildings were designed with the goal of achieving gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which requires certain standards in design, construction and operation.
The buildings use reclaimed water and have geothermal wells for heating and cooling systems, solar panels and large windows allowing staffers to rely more on natural light to cut energy costs.
The county recycled 90 percent of the original structures on the property during construction, Payton said.
Recycled products also were included in the building design. Carpeting, door frames, windows, rubber flooring and ceramic flooring were installed with recycled components.
All of the wooden beams used in the newer buildings were made from trees grown within 500 miles of the site.
The site will not be granted its gold certification until it has been fully operational, showing the solar panels, geothermal wells and reclaimed water are doing what they were designed to do.
“We are on track,” Payton said. “Commission agents monitor and recommend tweaks to the system.”
The property also had to adhere to county standards, including the critical areas ordnance, which includes protection for prairies species such as the Mazama pocket gopher found on the Tilley Road property.
Two acres has been fenced off for the gophers, Payton said.
“The board wanted us to lead by example,” he said.