On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake, Mayor Greg Nickels opened Seattle's new state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a high-tech nerve center that will coordinate the city's response to disasters and other major events.
The new EOC is a critical step forward in fulfilling Nickels' goal of making Seattle the most prepared city in the country for dealing with emergencies, whether natural or human caused. It is the latest project delivered by the 2003 Fire Levy.
"We can't stop the next earthquake or storm from striking Seattle, but we can be prepared to save lives, protect property and pull ourselves up after a disaster," Nickels said. "This emergency command center will allow us to send help where it is needed most when it is needed most."
The new EOC has state-of-the-art technology and space to better allow the city to coordinate emergency responses and keep the public informed. It is designed to withstand major earthquakes, with a seismic standard 50 percent higher than most buildings.
The EOC is part of the new headquarters fire station that will open later this spring at 105 Fifth Ave. S.
The new EOC will allow the city to coordinate with regional, state, and national operations centers through a host of systems and back-up systems, including the Internet, video-teleconferencing, satellite phones, 800 MHZ radio, short-wave/amateur radio, and local, state, and national warning/notification radios.
The new EOC can accommodate 150-plus emergency responders from city departments and key partners, such as hospitals, schools and universities, businesses, and nonprofit social service agencies. There is a room for 16 ham radio operators; nearly 100 of these volunteers support communications in neighborhoods and the EOC.
In 2003, Seattle voters approved the Fire Facilities and Emergency Response Levy, which was designed with lessons learned from the Nisqually earthquake, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, among others.
The $167 million levy is helping Seattle make tremendous progress on getting prepared, including:
Rebuilding or upgrading 32 neighborhood fire stations to better withstand earthquakes and ensure that the city's emergency responders are available to help when they are needed most. Two new fireboats, the flagship Leschi, delivered last year, and the smaller fire and rescue boat, Engine 1, that went into service in 2006. A new Joint Training Facility for firefighters that opened last year. Emergency water supply for fighting fires. Hardened hydrants at city reservoirs allow firefighters to draw water directly from reservoirs in an emergency. Emergency supply caches, located at four locations around the city of Seattle. Emergency generators at six community centers. To further bolster Seattle's emergency response, Seattle Public Utilities has an emergency water distribution system to get water to residents in need if the water system fails in an emergency. Using 3,500 gallon storage units called "blivets" and other resources, the city can deliver more than 600,000 gallons of clean and sanitized water a day to six distribution sites around the city.
The mayor has also focused on ensuring that everyone in Seattle has access to emergency preparedness training through the SNAP program. So far, more than 14,000 residents have taken the free class in addition to some 10,000 city employees.
Seattle's EOC will be "activated" during the March 5 Sound Shake Exercise, which will give Seattle and its regional partners an opportunity to practice responding to a simulated earthquake. Seattle and other emergency responders regularly use major training exercises such as this to ensure everyone is ready to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.
The EOC, located in south downtown, was designed by local architects Weinstein A|U, with associated architects RossDrulis Cusenbury of Sonoma, Calif., and built by Hoffman Construction and Co. It is part of a $43 million complex that also houses a new Fire Station 10 and Fire Alarm Center (FAC). Co-locating the three facilities made good economic sense as all are built to the essential facility standard, and the FAC and the EOC share much of the same complex technology.