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home : news : news August 27, 2015

8/30/2014 5:11:00 AM
City, County working to unify emergency operations
Would be housed in city's public safety training center
Members of the City of Alice and Jim Wells County Emergency Management teams convened Wednesday at the City of Alice Public Safety Training Center to continue discussions as they prepare to merge both entities and create a unified emergency operations center (EOC) in the near future.

"We're going to join forces," Lynn Kirchoff, emergency management coordinator for Jim Wells County, said. "That way, we'll all be in the same center sharing ideas and helping each other."

Currently, the Jim Wells County EOC is located at the county jail while the City of Alice operates out of the municipal court. Once unified, both entities will be housed at the training center, which recently was outfitted with a $45,000 backup generator using funds from the city, AEP and a $25,000 Homeland Security grant.

"One of the things we've always lacked is space," Alice Fire Chief and EMC Dean Van Nest said. "With this facility, we'll now have that space."
Kirchoff said he and Van Nest have been working on the merger for the past few months.

"We've been talking about it at least since I came on board in February," he said. "But the meetings started about three months ago."
Van Nest said unifying the EOC's is something that has been long overdue.

"Basically, Jim Wells County isn't big enough for two EOC's," he said. "This will make our operation a whole lot more efficient."

Van Nest said it would also improve communication between the Alice and the rest of the county.

"If something's needed, we're all right there instead of all the way across town," he said. "And then we wouldn't be as dependent upon technology to work.

"One of the things we can expect in a worst-case scenario is that nothing's going to work. We're not going to have power, cellphones aren't going to work, radios depend on how you set them up, so we're in the process to make sure that essential pieces of government will work and take care of issues that need to be resolved."

Kirchoff said the merger would also benefit in reducing the amount of staff needed working concurrently to operate the single EOC.
"We'll be able to reduce it by half," he said.

"It's about the same number, but the pool to draw from becomes bigger," Van Nest said.

Van Nest said city and county cooperation would happen with elected officials as well.

"The county judge and the mayor will be working side-by-side," he said. "City council and the commissioners will be working side-by-side. Everybody's got to be on the same page."

Wednesday's meeting concerned some of the work that has been done in streamlining communications between the city and county emergency and law enforcement entities.

"We've gone through our radio template and made sure they are pretty much a mirror," Van Nest said. "And we've have things set up so in the case things fail, we have backups."

Also discussed was the recent tropical disturbance making its way through the Caribbean towards the Gulf of Mexico.

"That may be a concern going into next week, so we need to keep an eye on that," Kirchoff said.

Still under discussion is which operational model the unified EOC will be utilizing, as well as setting up a tabletop exercise to simulate a worst-case scenario.

"We're still basically on the ground floor," Van Nest said. "It's going to take us a little while to fine tune. The goal is to take care of the people of Jim Wells County. That's the whole focus."

"We're excited about this," Kirchoff said. "We really are. It's something that's never been done before and it makes sense."

Another meeting has been scheduled for Sept. 24 at 10:30 a.m. at the City of Alice Public Safety Training Center.

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