EMERGENCY RESPONSE/Center prepared for multiple disasters
Oakland, Calif., has become well acquainted with natural disasters over the past 10 years. The city felt the effects of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and was damaged significantly in the 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm. Located on the Hayward Fault, adjacent to the San Andreas Fault, and bordered by highly combustible wild lands, Oakland could be threatened by another disaster at any time.
In 1994, the city began planning a facility for centralizing emergency operations. Completed last year, the Oakland Emergency Operations Center, located near the city’s government buildings downtown, serves as a disaster management site as well as a year-round fire and medical dispatch center and a regional training center.
The building was designed to withstand a “maximum credible event” while providing a setting for key officials to interact during a crisis and make strategic and coordinated decisions. Totaling 32,500 square feet, the facility consists of a two-tiered situation room equipped with computers, teleconferencing equipment and satellite capabilities. It also includes sleeping quarters, conference areas and a special media room with access to cable, satellite, antenna and wireless modems.
Because of the physical and mental strain that staff members experience during a crisis event, the city wanted to include special features – such as daylighting, programmable artificial lighting and private offices – to reduce stress. “This place could have ended up looking like an army bunker or a war ship,” says Henry Renteria, emergency services manager for Oakland. “In fact, it is aesthetically very pleasing. We have the ability to be close to each other, yet we have enough space.”
As a command center, the EOC can communicate with other government agencies through the Regional Information Management System, an Internet-based communication system. The facility has direct line connections to medical teams, special transportation districts, utility districts, state and county governments, and emergency personnel in neighboringcities. Technology includes an advanced geographic mapping system with 75 different maps of Oakland and specific response locations.
Oakland tests the EOC regularly to ensure that all systems are functional. “We performed a major test during Y2K, in which the facility was fully activated,” Renteria says. “It brought a real sigh of relief to see that the center is capable of receiving information and communicating. We were able to monitor all the Y2K non-events around the world.”
The EOC, designed by local firms Michael Willis Architects and The Colyer/ Freeman Group, cost $4.9 million and took four years to complete. Since its opening last year, the facility has not managed any major disasters.