Open house planned to unveil the new EOC

After a six-month period of whirlwind construction, Washington County’s dedicated Emergency Operations Center on Davis Avenue is almost ready for its close-up. An Oct. 24 open house at the facility will be the public’s first chance to tour the building and see how it will be used.

“Washington County has always had an EOC, but it’s never had what you’d call a permanent home. We operated out of the (Washington County) Courthouse or we’d go to the sheriff’s office and set up,” said Jeff Lauer, director of Washington County’s Emergency Management Agency.

The need for a permanent facility had been discussed for years, but became even more pressing after complications arose at the courthouse emergency operation center after a severe storm in June 2012.

A fire in the generator room meant the emergency response teams had no computers or phones, and so operations had to be picked up and moved in the midst of a natural disaster.

After the storm, Washington County applied for a 50 percent matching Ohio Emergency Management Performance grant and learned in December they’d been approved for the $237,500 grant.

The grant had originally mandated a June 30 completion date for the project. However, a delay in receiving the building’s emergency generator unit forced the county to request an extension, said Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine, who has helped coordinate the project.

“Due to the delay in the generator, we got an extension through the end of August and that worked out fine,” he said.

Now the facility has been quietly up and running for nearly a month, he said.

Lauer and a part-time EMA administrative assistant are still getting settled in, filing paperwork and generally organizing things. The county is also using some funding out of the EMA’s budget to finish a few projects the grant did not cover, said Lauer.

“Just like any project, you go around after the fact and find things you’d like to add,” he said.

Wednesday a crew from Miller Communication worked to install a radio communications system that will give the facility the ability to use multiple communication mediums, such as the state Multi-Agency Radio Communications System (MARCS) and ultra high frequency (UHF) and very high frequency (VHF) radio systems.

Lauer is also hoping some additional phones that were ordered will be installed by the open house.

In the meantime, some county groups have been giving the facility a test run.

The Washington County Board of Elections, which recently moved into the same building as the EOC at 204 Davis Ave., has been using the EOC’s largest room to train poll workers for the upcoming election, said BOE director Tara Hupp.

“We used to train in a conference room at the court house. We were able to do the training in there, but we had to break it down into more sessions because we could only fit in so many at a time,” she said.

Every year 196 poll workers are in place the day of the election and several more were typically trained as substitutes, said Hupp. The capacity in the EOC’s training room is nearly double that available at the court house, she said.

The poll workers have also been making use of the EOC’s convenient technological components to train on a new tool voters will see during this year’s election.

“We’re doing training on the new electronic poll books. It’s a computer touch screen check-in system we’re going to be using,” she said.

With access to electrical outlets under all of the seats in the new facility, training on electronics has been easier, said Hupp.

Having some trainings and group meetings in the building has been nice because it has given Lauer the opportunity to work out any kinks before the open house, he said.

“We’ve experimented with the phones and technology to make sure everything is working all right,” he said.

The open house is Oct. 24 from 2 to 6 p.m.