Photo by Elaine Rackley
Henry County Director of Emergency Communications and Emergency Management, Don Ash (left) thanked the Director of Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Gary Kelley for serving as the keynote speaker for the dedication ceremony of the new Henry County Emergency Operations Center.
Henry County Board of Commissioners and the Henry County Emergency Management Agency recently hosted a dedication service for the new $4.83 million Henry County Emergency Operations Center.
Guests at the event were taken on guided tours by members of the Henry County Citizens Emergency Response Team.
The new emergency center is located at 526 Industrial Boulevard, in McDonough.
“Henry County should be proud of the public servants they have serving the community,” said Gary Kelley, deputy director of Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). “We have seen over the years that those communities that prepare ahead handle disasters the best. No community is immune from disasters.” He was the keynote speaker for the recent dedication service.
Henry County purchased an existing 22,500-square foot structure and five acres of land, out of foreclosure in 2009 for $1.15 million. The funding for the facility was paid for using E911 Special Funds, which are collected from the surcharges on phone bills. The total budget for the facility was $4.83 million, including the original building and land, renovations, and fixtures, furnishings, and equipment, according to Henry County Communications Director Julie Hoover-Ernst.
“The concept design and construction of this facility was based on the premises to provide the best equipment and technology available to assist in the mission of protecting and serving our public safety employees and the residents of this county,” said Don Ash, Henry County Director of Emergency Communications and Director of Emergency Management. “A key mission of our emergency management is to have the ability to provide assistance to our community in times of disaster or crisis. We look and plan to make our community whole again after the effects of any catastrophic event.”
The new facility has 18 operators on its E911 staff. It also features a separate Emergency Operations Center for training and Incident Command. They will be equipped with a voice-over IP 911 system from AT&T that will enable them to know the GPS location of an emergency call instantly, even when placed by a cell phone.
The facility also features redundant communications and back-up generators to minimize any down time, and includes numerous computers and specialty software for both the E-911 Center and the Emergency Operations Center, added Hoover-Ernst.
There are shared offices for outside agencies, such as the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, the Henry County Health Department, Board of Education, Georgia Department of Transportation, and others who may need to be on site. The 24-hour facility is also equipped with showers for those who are working crisis situations and cannot leave, said Hoover-Ernst.
Ash said he has a staff of 58 people, including Michelle Lunsford, a 16-year veteran. She is the morning watch supervisor of the new Henry County Emergency Operations Center.
“It is a great honor for us to have this much office space,” said Lunsford. “We are able to provide even better services for the residents of Henry County from our new facility.”
Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols, Henry County Fire Chief Bill Lacy, and Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer have designated command offices in the new center.
“This is an exciting day for Henry County Public Safety,” said Nichols. “We have been working in very limited space in the past when we had to open the emergency operations center. This is great now that we have so much space to conduct our operations and the added technology should be a huge benefit. I am very proud for Don Ash and all his hard-working folks,” he said.
“There is an opportunity for growth that will be borne out by the disasters that are managed here,” said Lacy.
McBrayer said the new center is a logical next step in the evolution of post 911 emergency preparedness.
“This state-of-the-art operation is a good example of the use of funds accumulated in advance through a small fee included on our phone bills,” said McBrayer. “We feel that the 911 dispatchers are a lifeline for our citizens and our Deputies in dangerous situations and they deserve to have the best tools at their fingertips.”
Besides the E-911 special funds, monies for the center came from a COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant of $175,000 and impact fees totaling $153,911, according to Hoover-Ernst.
“The fact that they built a facility of this magnitude with a relatively small amount of money than comparable counties, shows that we have great leadership in getting it done,” said Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark.
Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth “B.J.” Mathis, said having vision often means seeing opportunities where others see none.
“On the surface, we purchased an aging RV Sales Center out of foreclosure, but its bones were good, and its location next door to the old E911 Center saved the county a million dollars from day one, by not having to relocate the massive communications hub.
“The building has been totally transformed and we now have a beautiful facility worthy of the professionalism and dedication of our Emergency Management Agency and first responders, and it is something we can all be proud of, because it was accomplished for pennies on the dollar,” said Mathis.