Nevada emergency and security operations all under one roof
November 28, 2009
The governor’s decision to unify homeland security and emergency management functions has already fixed many of the problems officials say have plagued the state’s efforts in those areas since Sept. 11, 2001.
Frank Siracusa, longtime director of emergency management, said Nevada – like many other states – realized that it made no sense to have one operation to deal with potential terrorism threats and another to deal with natural disasters and every other type of emergency.
“Whether it’s a terrorist attack on a building or a gas line leak that blows a building up, it’s now all under one roof,” he said.
Siracusa said in Carson City, they are literally under one roof – the Emergency Operations Center in the Nevada National Guard complex in southeast Carson City.
Not only is the communications and operations center for emergency management housed there, the so-called “fusion center” which is responsible for intelligence gathering and interpretation is there along with northern command Nevada Highway Patrol dispatch, the National Guard’s joint operations center and the administration for the Division of Forestry, the lead agency when there is a wildfire.
The Carson City fusion center and the operations center are also tied in with their counterparts in Reno and Las Vegas.
Siracusa said after 9/11, there was a push by the federal government and states to create programs to find and stop terrorists. Many, including Nevada, started with a homeland security director assigned to the governor’s office and began trying to create a system to identify and handle threats around that person.
“What they failed to realize is that the infrastructure was already there,” he said. “All we had to do is enhance the communication.”
The governor’s office drew some criticism earlier this year when it eliminated the Homeland Security Director’s position and moved his responsibilities to Emergency Management. But Siracusa said the move has virtually eliminated the bureaucratic red tape hindering cooperation between the different agencies involved.
And frankly, he said, his office was already handling many of the homeland security issues including managing all federal homeland security, emergency management and other grants for the past decade.
He said before the merger, it often took a series of meetings and development of “memorandums of understanding” to resolve an issue.
For the first time, he said, every phase of emergency management including intelligence, planning, detection, prevention, response and recovery is in one place and under one management.
“Now we just sit down at a table and work it out,” he said.
In addition, he said they have hired a coordinator to develop a system of people reporting any type of suspicious activity or problems in every county in the state as well as signed up amateur radio licensees in case of an emergency.
“I say the mission of homeland security was not diminished by the merger. It was enhanced,” he said.
The state of the art, $10.5 million building is home to nearly 40 of Siracusa’s employees and another nine or 10 who work for the Division of Investigations as well as NHP dispatchers and National Guard employees. That amount doesn’t include the high-tech video, computer and communications gear throughout the building.
In addition, the center is built to handle the worst a natural or other disaster can throw at the state. It was designed to withstand an 8.5 magnitude earthquake and has blast-proof windows. If the threat is biological or airborne, its air handling system can be sealed off from the outside world. It has a full kitchen and emergency food supplies for those working there along with showers and other amenities.
The sophisticated air handling system was installed because, during the Waterfall Fire several years ago, emergency management’s old center in the basement of the armory had to be evacuated because the building filled with smoke.
There is also meeting space for the governor and other decision makers and even an area for the press to get the word out in an emergency.
“We’ll make the decisions right here whether to ask for a governor’s declaration or a federal declaration. It’s a one-stop shop,” he said.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.