Nothing in government comes easy, or fast.

The Department of Homeland Security has built sufficient momentum over the last couple of years to begin reshaping how local governments plan and build emergency operations centers (EOCs). The focus is an EOC housing all emergency-response disciplines, from police to fire, EMS, public health and other entities seemingly unrelated to emergency response, such as public works departments, or water and sewer agencies.

New Attitude

Cincinnati is just one example of what can happen with a little encouragement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Officials there have put the pieces in place to renovate an existing EOC that will house emergency response representatives from three surrounding cities and Hamilton County, said Edward Dadosky, district chief of the Cincinnati Fire Department.

"As a city and county, we're coming together within the walls of this structure like we never have before," Dadosky said, explaining that the EOC is a Cincinnati/Hamilton County joint project -- the city owns the building and the county has built out a significant amount of space inside the building.

"The county is putting money into the EOC and putting people here," he said. "We're using our grant money to bring us closer, in that respect." Dadosky said the way the DHS administers Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funds has driven the city/county relationship. "They've forced the core city, which has traditionally been the bully in this area, to work with the core county."

Dadosky said the DHS' message -- that the city and county will not build separate EOCs with separate funding streams -- got through loud and clear. The grant's structure forced the city and county to plan together on all aspects of the EOC, and city and county officials both had to sign off on every purchase made under the grant, he said.

"That has been the most unsung accomplishment of the DHS," Dadosky said. "If the DHS had not required us to do this, I think there would have been a lot more politicizing of different projects and plans. But because we knew that either one could veto the other, there was no sense fighting about it. We had to figure out a way to get it done."

Over the winter, the city was hit with significant snowstorms, something the city is not fully prepared to deal with, Dadosky said. Officials from City Hall took a lot of criticism from residents because nobody seemed to know where the snowplows were operating. Dadosky said he got a call asking if the plows could have been outfitted with automatic vehicle location technology and tracked from the EOC.

"I said, 'You're damn right it's something we could have done out of the EOC,'" he recalled. "I said, 'This ops center isn't waiting around for Osama bin Laden to attack. This is to manage day-to-day emergencies. If we're just building stuff for the terror incident, we're being really silly.'"

The EOC will house key city and county officials from various emergency response and homeland security disciplines, and also from the Hamilton County Fire Chiefs' Association, the Greater Cincinnati Hazardous Materials unit, and the county's Emergency Management Agency. The Hamilton County Police Chiefs' Association has also expressed interest in having a representative housed at the EOC.

"This kind of thing was unheard of as recently as two years ago," Dadosky said. "Now, here we are with a potentially good deal of the decision-makers operating in one facility under one roof, and not just jurisdictionally speaking. Police and fire -- everyone thinks of them in case of an emergency -- but we all know now the key role that public health plays in one of these incidents. We've done a good job

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor