‘CODE’ experience critical to success of emergency operations center
The $24.5 million, 36,000-square-foot emergency operations center officially opened on Dec. 3, 2007. So far, the joint city-county facility seems to have succeeded in meeting the aforementioned goals and more. As noted by Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff at the opening ceremonies: “This facility will secure our ranking of second safest city in the U.S., and more than likely we will surpass that position to first.”
As a secure command and control center, key features include: a central command operations space for 15 emergency support functions with more than 100 participants; an emergency planning/policy room that can accommodate 25 participants and 32 support personnel; a media briefing room; administrative and support space; a data center designed for future growth; and a redundant communications system and electrical backup generator system designed to accommodate a sustained activation. There also is space for regional medical operations support, including a Web emergency operations center that provides current information on all available local and regional hospital beds.
For lead architectural consultant Ross & Baruzzini, the San Antonio emergency operations center is a showcase of the firm’s critical operations, design and engineering practices (“CODE”). In addition to being responsible for developing the facility and technology programming, schematic design, design development and subsequent RFP oversight, the St. Louis-based firm also maintained an ongoing advisory role throughout the construction process.
At the beginning of the project, District Chief Nim Kidd, the city emergency management coordinator, stated that the objective was “to manage certain constraints to achieve our goals with the most efficient use of our limited financial resources.” The city also required that everything fit together with a cohesive flow, including interrelationships and interdependences that would be tested in an emergency situation.
Ross & Baruzzini met the city’s challenge, and the emergency operations center opened on time and under budget. Ross & Baruzzini’s extensive CODE experience was of critical importance to the success of the project. Having designed operations and emergency centers for cities such as Detroit, St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., as well as more than 18 airport communications, emergency and operations centers from Portland, Ore., to Miami, Ross & Baruzzini understood the inherent challenges for a project of this complexity.
Planning helps leverage investment
Theresa Smith, senior project manager for Ross & Baruzzini, explained that one of the firm’s guiding principles “is to help clients leverage their investment.” Consequently, “we never push technology for technology’s sake.
“Instead, we conducted a detailed analysis to determine where it was possible to be conservative in our design processes and where it was necessary to be aggressive with state-of-the-market solutions to accomplish strategic objectives stated by the stakeholders,” Smith said. “And, we were extremely fortunate to be able to work with a client that was so engaged in the process.”
Merging the emergency management offices of the city of San Antonio and Bexar County into one shared facility also required a building design that made sense in terms of adjacencies, floor plans and functionality as well as site positioning, traffic patterns and landscaping elements. Ross & Baruzzini met this challenge by focusing on customizing solutions, which resulted at one point in reversing the floor plan to improve personnel and vehicular circulation.
According to Mike Shea, principal architect, who manages Ross & Baruzzini’s CODE practice, there always are lessons to be learned from past projects.
“For the San Antonio EOC, we were able to draw upon Ross & Baruzzini’s extensive experience developing critical operations centers for airports nationwide,” Shea said. “This not only helped us deal with some unique challenges, it enabled us to identify strategic opportunities based on local factors, including stakeholder composition, budget criteria, prevailing codes, site conditions and related threats and vulnerabilities.”
Both the city and the county were pleased with the result. Personnel are confident that the facility will support their efforts to efficiently gather, evaluate and distribute critical information and implement responsive actions during a terrorist incident, a flood or significant weather situation, a major hazardous materials accident or other natural or man-made emergencies or disasters.
In addition to serving as the lead architectural consultant, Ross & Baruzzini served as the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection (MEPFP) engineering and technology consultant for three integrative elements of the emergency operations center: business process, facility and technology system design.
Ross & Baruzzini provided this case history.