Grand tour

Published 9:30 am Sunday, March 10, 2013

The new $2.7 million Washington Parish Communications/Emergency Operations Center is expected to be move-in ready by the end of March and to be up and running by June 1.

On Monday, as electricians, painters and others worked toward completion, Washington Parish Communications District Chair Jim Coleman conducted a tour of the facility for representatives of participating agencies.

The EOC is a cooperative endeavor of the Washington Parish Communications District, Washington Parish Government and the Washington Parish Office of Homeland Security.

The tour group included Parish President Richard Ned Thomas, Director of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security Tommy Thiebaud, Sheriff Randy Seal and a number of deputies, WPCD Manager Joanna Thomas and Alton Davis, who represented architect Richard C. Lambert.

The center compound includes three buildings and three radio towers located on a nine-acre property at 54100 Dollar Road, in the middle of Washington Parish.

The facility is self sufficient with two diesel-powered generators, sewage treatment, a water well, drinking water treatment and on-site fire protection with water storage tank, Coleman said.

All functions of the Washington Parish Communications District will be located at the new center, he said.

The main building is a 5,200 square feet Communications and Emergency Operations Building, which will house the parish government’s 20-seat Emergency Operations Center.

“Every agency we need will be in here,” said Thiebaud as he stood inside the Emergency Management Room that is set up to include rows of work spaces, computers and television screens.

That includes representatives of utility companies, the National Guard and others, most with two-man teams so each individual can work a 12-hour shift, he said.

The sheriff’s office will move its dispatcher to the new three-seat Dispatch Room, and space for two additional dispatchers or 911 call takers is available when needed, Coleman said.

A Mapping Room, administrative offices, lodging and power spaces and more are also included in the main space.

The building contains 10 miles of computer cable and it’s built to withstand high winds, Coleman said. The outside walls are made of steel-reinforced concrete-filled blocks, and each outside door weighs 1,000 pounds.

The second building is a concrete-walled 500 square foot “state-of-the-art” Radio Bunker.

It’s self sufficient, with a dedicated generator and battery back up system, and even every wire, post and the fence outside are grounded, according to Coleman.

“We could lose main system and still have the ability to communicate,” he said.

The cost of the bunker itself was $900,000, and that doesn’t include the equipment, according to Coleman.

The third building is an approximately 300 square foot Fire Water Pumping and Drinking Water Treatment Building, which contains a diesel powered fire pump fed from an adjacent 24,000 gallon storage tank as well as a drinking water treatment system.

Looking down upon them all are three radio towers: a 400-foot-tall main tower with 35 antennas for parish wide, state and regional communications, plus two short emergency towers, each with three antennas, that can be used if the main radio system fails.

Construction and equipment costs of $2.7 million were funded by state and federal grants plus local funding provided by the Washington Parish Communications District, Coleman said.

The facility represents Phase I of the overall project, Phase II of which, when funded, will add spots for additional dispatchers and emergency operations positions.

But the groundwork is now in place, said Thiebaud.

“This will do everything we need it to do,” he said.

The project was prompted by what Coleman called a “complete communications failure” during Hurricane Katrina.

Besides being housed in bunker-like structures with multiple antennas towering on high, the new system contains radio equipment that is integrated with the computer system to allow direct communication with people in the field, uses software that enables connection with the state Emergency Operations Center and others via the Web and has multiple built in redundancies.

Seal said he is “excited to be taking part” in the project.

Communications District Manager Joanna Thomas said she is happy that the move-in day is getting close. She praised Coleman as the project’s driving force.

“He knew the parish needed a car,” she said. “He knew how to build one, what parts were needed and how to drive it. This parish is so blessed to have somebody like Jim.”

The parish president said he appreciates what both Coleman and Thiebaud have done, “working on this over the years.”

Thomas was impressed with the tour.

“I’m just excited about it,” he said. “I think this is just one more step in moving the parish forward.”