By the start of next year, Pam Tucker hopes to be packing her desk to move into Columbia County's newest building addition - a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center.
Currently, Tucker's Emergency Services Division shares a small warehouse building on Faircloth Drive with the Procurement Division. But in September, the county acquired the former State Farm building at 450 Ronald Reagan Drive, next to the Justice Center and Courthouse Annex in Evans.
Plans are for Tucker's office and the Columbia County Sheriff's Office substation, currently in Government Building A, to move into the soon-to-be 15,700-square-foot building after renovations are finished, said Mark Chostner, county Facility Planning and Construction manager.
"The beauty of this project is it is going to put our sheriff, who deals with public safety, and our Emergency Operations Center side by side because they work hand-in-hand with so many things," Chostner said. "That is the beauty of putting these two together there. They will be right beside each other."
The county's special 1-cent sales tax that was approved in July is funding the $1.7 million building and renovation project, Chostner said.
Tucker said she is excited about having an Emergency Operations Center that does not serve a dual purpose and can fit all people involved in a crisis situation.
Tucker said her conference room is where county leaders and department heads meet with representatives from law enforcement, emergency response and utilities agencies to manage a crisis.
"We'll have a tremendous amount of capabilities that we don't have now, which is the purpose of this move, to begin with," Tucker said, adding that her current conference room must transfer into a training room and operations center when needed.
The new location was originally built to accommodate an addition, enabling the building to handle future growth of the county, Chostner said.
Plans for the new 8,100-square-foot Emergency Services office include storage space for food and other emergency supplies, showers, a kitchen, offices, a conference room, space for emergency and weather equipment and a state-of-the-art center with 23 high-end work stations with audio-visual equipment needed to provide real time data to decision-makers, a communications and warnings center to house weather and emergency technology and a library/media room with windows to view the operations in the center, Chostner said.
"It is just a real EOC that will be able to be up and running for coordinating and making sure that disasters are well handled all the way from the beginning to the end," Tucker said, adding that the building will have more power back-ups, better structural integrity and higher levels of security than the current building. "It will just be really fantastic for the community."
Tucker said the new building will house a 311 call center.
The number, which is in the approval stages, will handle nonlife-threatening situations such as road obstructions or sewage back-ups on a daily basis and will provide important information during a crisis, Tucker said.
"In an emergency, it turns into an information center feeding everything from the public right into the Operations room where all your head folks are," Tucker said.
The remaining 7,600 square feet will be renovated to serve the deputies using the Evans substation, which is a small office with cubicles and radio equipment. "This (building) will accommodate all of the (Emergency Services) operations and this will really help the sheriff because it will give them a place to really operate," Chostner said. "It's the growth of the county. The deputies have grown but not their space."
Chostner expects planning and design to be completed and the project to be out for bid by April with construction beginning in June. He said he hopes to have Tucker into her new office by next spring and, depending on the construction timeline, the sheriff's deputies could move in earlier, Chostner said.
"This is an exciting project," Chostner said. "It will be a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center and hopefully prepare us for what is coming in the future as far as all this growth. God forbid anything would happen, but we'd be ready to handle it."
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