An Emergency Response Center Built to Survive the Big One
New Regional Operations Center will house 9-1-1 Public Safety Dispatchers, Office of Emergency Services
The County’s Emergency Operations Center is in the basement of a building that was constructed during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term.
With the Cold War long over, the County is trading in its cramped and outdated Emergency Operations Center (EOC) for a new $37 million building to coordinate the response to disasters. It will also serve as a home for the County's 9-1-1 public safety dispatchers, a secure data center and the daily offices of the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services and Division of Homeland Security of the Sheriff’s Office.
“The basement is not where you want to be in an earthquake or in any emergency situation,” said Sheriff Carlos Bolanos. "This has been a priority for many years but we have not had the necessary funding until now.”
The project is the largest funded to date by Measure A, the half-cent countywide sales tax approved by San Mateo County voters in November 2012. (Editor's note: Voters in November 2016 extended the sales tax for an additional 20 years in a proposition listed as Measure K on the ballot.)
The County's dispatch center handles 300,000 incidents a year
“When the Board of Supervisors placed Measure A on the ballot, one of our goals was to repair or replace critical facilities. Nothing is more critical than the ability to coordinate and respond to an emergency anywhere in our community,” said Adrienne Tissier, a County Supervisor and chair of the San Mateo County Emergency Services Council. “When not in use, our current emergency operations center doubles as the jury assembly room for the courts. We now will have a dedicated EOC.”
The new 37,000-square-foot, two-story center will be located on the County Center campus where the motor pool now sits. Crews began dismantling the motor pool and preparing the site for construction in June 2016. Groundbreaking is expected in winter 2017.
The building will officially be known as the Regional Operations Center, or ROC.
Bolanos said the center will be used during earthquakes, fires, hazardous materials emergencies, floods, oil spills, landslides, terrorist incidents – any time a coordinated response to a disaster is needed. It will be built to withstand violent shaking from an earthquake with redundant electrical, water and other systems.
Following a major disaster, responders and dispatchers will be self-sufficient with enough food and water for up to 10 days.
All County employees are Disaster Service Workers
County responders such as the Sheriff’s Office, County Fire, Health System, Human Services Agency and Public Works staff the Emergency Operations Center when it’s activated. All County employees may be called upon to respond to an emergency as part of their duties under the California Emergency Services Act.
The new center will also have space for other agencies such as Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, major utilities, ambulance providers, California Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
It will also contain a Joint Information Center so officials can swiftly provide accurate information to the news media and the public. The emergency operations center acts as the “one stop” source for coordination for emergency managers, law enforcement and key decision makers throughout the county.
In recent years San Mateo County has played a critical role in the emergency responses to the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion and fire, the 2013 crash-landing of an Asiana Airlines jetliner at SFO, tsunami warnings, apartment fires in Redwood City and numerous other calamities. Yet the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury called the current center "clearly inadequate" for a county in "a high-risk earthquake zone."
While response to major events is critical, the day-to-day operation in the 9-1-1 Public Safety Dispatch Center is just as important.
The dispatch center will grow to 22 work stations from 13
"The new dispatch center will have room for growth adding an additional nine work stations,” said Jaime Young, the Public Safety Communications Project Director taking the lead on the planning effort. “We are aligning with state and national goals of consolidated systems and operations, which will provide opportunities for all public safety agencies to take advantage of the state-of-art facility and the new technology that we will use”.
The 9-1-1 center will feature emerging technology that will allow call takers to receive information from the public in more ways than using a telephone.
“Next generation 9-1-1 includes a robust network that allows for receiving multi-media messages from the public including streaming video, text messages and still photos,” said Ed Wood, the Director of Public Safety Communications. “Using this technology will allow our Public Safety Dispatchers to access data that will provide more comprehensive information for first responders.”
Tissier thanked the voters for recognizing the need to invest in local needs. “Without the funds from Measure A, a new EOC would still be on the drawing board. Now thanks to the voters San Mateo County will have a state-of-the art facility.”
The building will achieve LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council
Note: This article was updated on Dec. 28, 2016, to add that voters extended the half-cent salex tax for 20 years in a proposition listed as Measure K on the November 2016 ballot.)
This article was also edited on Nov. 18, 2016, to update the construction schedule and on July 22, 2016, to reflect that Carlos Bolanos is now the Sheriff (he was Undersheriff when this article was originally posted on April 11, 2016.