County and state leaders and area first responders dedicated Columbia County's new Emergency Operations Center on Friday.
The more than 7,000-square-foot facility, which opened in July, features advanced emergency communications equipment and work stations for emergency responders from the cities, county, state and federal agencies and utility companies.
Special guest Maj. Gen. William T. Nesbitt, Georgia's new director of Homeland Security, credited county Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker and the county commission for the center, which he called a model for other communities to strive to build.
"It's a state-of-the-art facility that reflects the quality of leadership in Columbia County," he said.
The $1.1 million facility, which is a former State Farm Insurance building on Ronald Reagan Drive, also features weather-monitoring stations, a kitchen and living areas for long-term operations, a closed ventilation system, closed-circuit direct telephone links to 911, the ability to activate the Emergency Alert System and is the home of the non-emergency 311 call center.
The center was funded by the county's 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax.
"It's a wonderful tribute that the citizens know the importance of these types of facilities," Tucker said in thanking taxpayers and the county commissioners, who she said had the vision to implement changes in fire and emergency service protection since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Tucker said her department took its time, consulting with the emergency managers of other counties and following federal guidelines to design the facility.
To demonstrate a disaster response situation that the new center was designed to handle, officials showed scenes from the January 2005 Graniteville train wreck on a screen behind the lectern Friday.
Numerous area, state and federal agencies responded to that wreck, which, along with a resulting release of toxic chlorine gas, killed nine and injured hundreds.
On a separate screen was shown live camera footage from the county Emergency Management Agency's Mobile Operations Center of Nesbitt's arrival by Georgia State Patrol helicopter.
Tucker said interoperability, redundant communications systems, an aerial map plotter and other sophisticated equipment are vital for leaders to make critical decisions in real time to warn or assist the public.
The center also will serve as a new training facility and headquarters for the 187-member strong Community Emergency Response Team volunteer force, Tucker said.
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