Earthquake-Resistant Public Safety Building Protects Responders

Salt Lake City’s new building creates a safer working environment for emergency responders and EOC operations.

by / December 20, 2013

Fire Chief Kurt Cook breathes easier in his new office these days. He recently moved into a spacious top floor working space in Salt Lake City’s new public safety building located downtown. It seems obvious why he’d like it there — he’s got his own bathroom, a huge window and balcony view, and the interior is as large as a small studio apartment.

But Cook also feels safer. Salt Lake City strides the Wasatch fault, which could be struck by a massive earthquake at any time. To prepare for this scenario, the building has multiple seismic bracers along the inside of the walls to protect Cook and his co-workers from possible quakes — and to ensure they have a place to coordinate emergency response when needed. According to the city, the building can withstand up to a magnitude 7.5 earthquake.

The building’s also a net zero energy facility, designed to produce as much energy as it consumes, thanks in large part to photovoltaic panels that absorb sunlight to partially power the building. The off-the-grid power supply will come in handy if a quake or other disaster destroys access to traditional power sources. “Our inability to get power from the power company and how long our backup generation capabilities will work for us — those are all impacted for the positive by having the zero footprint building,” Cory Lyman, the city’s emergency management director, told Emergency Management last year.

In November 2009, Salt Lake City voters approved a $125 million general obligation bond to fund the building’s construction, which included an EOC. City administration moved the police, fire and emergency operations staff and dispatchers into the four-story building in summer 2013 to house them in optimal working conditions, not only for themselves but also for their environment.

The new space is a far cry from the previous one. Built in 1957, the older building wasn’t designed to support multiple law enforcement divisions that would grow and evolve over time. Before the move, Cook and his co-workers worked in cramped offices that festered in decay as time passed over the decades. The original building was designed for 275 employees but ended up housing 500 police and fire employees, the city reported.

“It certainly protects our administrative components and gives us the opportunity to operate in a much more friendly environment and much more safe environment in the event that we have a major disaster,” Cook said. “That gives me a level of comfort that I didn’t have before.”

The old building, where officers and firefighters coexisted in tight, uncomfortable spaces had “bad karma” in his opinion, and he was spooked when he accidentally almost drove there one day out of habit.

“There was nothing I liked about that building,” Cook said. “Elevators would frequently be stuck. We had electrical fires; we had frequent floods, raw sewage [and] mold.”

The new building comprises more than 168,000 square feet of space for its occupants, and it’s also designed to give members of the general public reasons to visit that don’t involve crime and incarceration. There are community rooms, great for seminars and classes, and the open courtyard outside the lobby has tables and chairs beneath a photovoltaic awning. The base of the awning leads to outlets in the courtyard where patrons can charge their mobile devices.

Lt. Scott Teerlink, who was involved in the building’s design, is glad that he had the opportunity to shape its design. He wanted to ensure that multiple law enforcement divisions could work closely together without stepping over each other, literally.

“There’s so many unique features with public safety and emergency operations,” he said. “To design that building so it all integrates and works together is a really great opportunity.”

This story was originally published by Emergency Management

Hilton Collins

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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