City moving forward on new emergency center
City moving forward on new emergency center
Updated at 11:20 a.m. Wednesday, March 26 in BOLD
The city is moving forward with plans to construct a long-sought emergency operations center on former Alameda Belt Line property a block away from a mid-Island fire station. Construction is set to begin in October.
“This is an important project for the city,” City Planner Andrew Thomas told the Planning Board, which signed off on the design of the facility Monday night. “It’s going to be important in case of a disaster.”
In an interview, Fire Chief Michael D’Orazi said the city’s existing emergency operations center, which is in the basement of the Alameda Police Department’s 36-year-old headquarters, is too small to run a full-scale response effectively and is lacking the technological infrastructure, breakout, storage and communications facilities the city needs.
The new facility would cover 3,640 square feet over two floors on a 0.57-acre site on Grand and Hibbard streets, which it is to share with a new Fire Station 3. The City Council got a look at a $5 million financing plan for the planned fire station on March 18 and is set to consider approving it in May.
D’Orazi said the city has been working toward building a new emergency operations center for nearly two decades. The facility will be used to manage disaster and crisis responses, and may also be used to conduct city staff and community emergency response team training.
Voters rejected a 2012 sales tax measure that would have paid for a list of items that included the new emergency center, sending the city’s managers on a quest for alternate funding. The council signed off on a plan to refinance existing City Hall bonds in September, releasing $3 million for the facility.
The city conducted a series of community workshops in 2012 and 2013 to discuss the design of the planned facility before seeking the Planning Board’s design approval and an okay from Alameda’s Historic Advisory Board to remove trees from the site where it will be built. City Council approval was not needed to move forward with the facility.
At an earlier design review hearing, Planning Board member John Knox White questioned whether the mid-Island location was a good spot for the new emergency center, due to its proximity to homes and distance from police and fire headquarters. In the interview, D’Orazi, who called the site’s selection “a combination of need and opportunity” that will save the city money since it already owns the property, said it is “neither necessary nor desirable” to have the emergency center near police or fire headquarters or City Hall.
“Having the EOC near other municipal buildings is not ideal because city staff assigned to EOC functions need to be focused on the tasks at hand and not disrupted by other duties or requirements of their employment,” D’Orazi said in response to e-mailed questions from a reporter. “In other words, they won't have the proximity to their offices (and) staff, which could be a distraction.”
He said municipal buildings are “often” a target of demonstrations and other disobedience, which would “not be conducive to efficient operations” when the emergency center is activated.
Hayward’s emergency operations center was built on the second floor of its City Hall when that building was constructed in 1998, a spokesman for the city said, while Oakland’s, built in 2000 at a cost of $4.9 million, is located near the city’s government buildings downtown and also serves as a fire and medical dispatch center and regional training site. Berkeley incorporated its emergency center in a public safety building constructed in 2000; the city's spokesman said the center is a multipurpose room used "almost daily" by police and firefighters for meetings and trainings and that the equipment purchased for it is modular and designed to be set up when the center is activated.
The Planning Board okayed the center’s design with some changes 5-1, with Knox White – who agreed it is needed – dissenting (Kristoffer Köster was absent, though in e-mailed comments he suggested the building be redesigned). Resident Michael John Torrey urged board members to sign off on the plan.
“I would encourage you to move forward with this project,” said Torrey, a member of the Amateur Radio Club of Alameda. “It’s very important, and we need this.”