Federal grant to enhance county emergency operations technology

Richard Urban

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Pinal County's Emergency Operations Center opened in February.Photo courtesy of Pinal County

By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County AZ

Pinal County’s new Emergency Operations Center got a boost recently when U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran delivered a federal grant worth $187,500 to install hardware and software to help public safety personnel better coordinate the many tasks that go into managing an emergency situation or natural disaster.

The grant provides the county with the means to assemble and install the technology that will improve emergency workers’ ability to assess a situation, communicate with those in the emergency center and in the field, and coordinate with outside agencies such as the Red Cross that provide aid and shelter.

The improvements also will make it easier for emergency managers to assess a situation quickly so they can pinpoint where and when the public should be notified about what they need to do to protect themselves, their pets and livestock, and their property.

Once the technology is installed and tested sometime in the fall, county Emergence Manager Chuck Kmet said, it will represent the culmination of an effort that began in 2019 when the board of supervisors narrowly approved a $63 million bond issue.

In addition to the Emergency Operations Center, which opened in February, the bond issue also funded the county attorney’s building that opened in January, and the Development Services building that opened last year in Florence. County facilities in San Tan Valley and the City of Maricopa were also included.

“We now have an emergency operations center that we'll be able to be ready to go at a moment's notice once we are notified about an emergency or disaster that's going on in the county and that needs our support from the activation of the Emergency Operations Center,” Kmet said.

“Before it took us a couple of hours to get everything all set up and squared away to where we could try to do things at the same time that we're trying to help out the public safety folks out in the field or get information to the public.”

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Once the new technology is installed, video monitors will replace blank walls.Photo courtesy of Pinal County

At 1,800-square-foot, the operations center doubled the space in its predecessor facility, giving the five-member emergency management team the capacity to accommodate representatives from other county departments, such as the Sheriff’s Department and Public Works, other governmental jurisdictions at the city, county, and state levels, and non-governmental agencies that provide disaster relief.

A movable partition between the center and an adjacent hearing room can double the space for as many as 50 people.

The grant will fund will provide a technology framework that allows the people in the center to network among themselves and share the information they have collected on a wall of video monitors where managers can easily assess the information being gathered.

The closed network will also make two-way communication with people in the field more efficient and provide county supervisors with an information link to facilitate communication with constituents.

Supervisors “can see the nitty-gritty of what was going on so that way, if they get questions, they're able to answer those questions,” Kmet said.

While the center can get up and running quickly, during down times it can be used for training, including Federal Emergency Management Agency or Homeland Security classes, Kmet said

“It definitely helps to try to have this function as an area where we can do different discipline-specific training and then have it ready to go for an incident that may come at the drop of a hat,” Kmet said.

Those are the moments the investment in the facilities and technology pay off.

“We live for supporting jurisdictions, for supporting public safety entities during those events, with the information or the resources, so that way they can focus on their tasks at hand,” Kmet said.

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Richard is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years experience in newspaper and magazine publishing. He has covered topics that include local and state government and politics, courts and crime, environment, business and innovation.

Phoenix, AZ
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