Officials urge moving emergency center from basement office site

Relocating dispatchers, communications gear is suggested for safety

October 11, 2001|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

The terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon have prompted Carroll County firefighters to push harder for the relocation of the county's Emergency Operations Center to its former Washington Road site.

Emergency officials have long been concerned about the safety of dispatchers and the county's communication system in the basement of the County Office Building in Westminster.

The terrorist attacks have underscored those concerns. Bob Alexander, chairman of a Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association committee charged with looking into the relocation, told the county commissioners yesterday that dispatchers do not feel safe in the basement of the Center Street building.

During a simultaneous bomb scare at the County Office Building, courthouse and Carroll County General Hospital last month, a dispatcher had to remain in the government building until a backup system at the Westminster firehouse could be "fired up and running," Alexander said. That system has limited capability in a serious emergency, he said.

He said that the County Office Building offers limited security and insufficient space for dispatchers and equipment.

"The events of the last few weeks have shown just how well-prepared we are to face serious problems," Alexander said. "Our communication system will be our main line of defense against an attack."

From 1983 until 1996, the emergency communications dispatch center was at the fire training center grounds at 1345 Washington Road, in a bunker-type building built into the side of the hill.

"We operated there without ever having an incident where we had to evacuate," Alexander said. "Since we've been here, we've had several incidents, one really bad one when there was a gas leak, and our guys could not leave."

Howard S. "Buddy" Redman, director of the Office of Public Safety, said the dispatch center was moved when the new communications system was installed in 1996. The new system could not be built while using the old system at the same location, he said.

Before the dispatch center can be moved, a second story would have to be put on the bunker building, which is used for emergency services classes and offices.

Redman estimated it would cost $1 million to move the dispatch center and upgrade the communication system. Additional money would have to be spent to add to the bunker building to accommodate training needs.

The commissioners did not make a decision yesterday.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge suggested the county could look into getting grants or state funds to help with such a move.

"The argument for the move sounds more and more legitimate all the time," she said. "We'd have to look at the equipment, how much it would cost and how long it would take. The recent bomb threat showed we need to do a lot of work on our emergency plans. There's too many risks now not to look at it."

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