For the past several years, the county commissioners and emergency management personnel of Bryan County have been working toward establishing an emergency management headquarters. It started becoming a reality in August, when the headquarters opened its doors on Hwy. 204 – nearly dead center between the north and south ends of the county.
While it now runs like a fire station with a few extras attached to it, the facility is tailored to become the local emergency control center on Jan. 31.
County residents in the Morgan’s Bridge area of Ellabell previously were about a dozen miles from the nearest county fire station, which raised their insurance in addition to being far from help. The new facility is about five miles from Morgan’s Bridge.
Built with SPLOST funding, the center includes all the amenities of a fire station plus an emergency training/conference room and the administrative offices of Bryan County Fire Chief/Emergency Services Director Jim Anderson, Assistant Fire Chief Otis Willis and EMS Chief Susan Clark.
"This is a progressive step for emergency management in Bryan County," Anderson said. "With this new facility, we’re about 100 percent better than we were. For example, let’s say, God forbid, a bomb dropped out of the sky tomorrow. All I’d have to do now is activate the personnel roster and walk into the new training center and we’d start getting down to business. Unlike previous facilities, I will also be able to have all my emergency services people in the event of an evacuation because I could move the trucks outside and put cots in the bay."
Prior to this, all emergency training in the county was done in the bays of fire stations which Anderson said was often subject to uncomfortable weather conditions based on outside temperatures and also required having to set it up and tear it down.
"In the past, we used to pull everything out of storage and set it up in the shared conference facility when we needed to create an emergency operations center," Anderson said. "Now all we do for either function is simply walk into our new facility, flip some switches and we’re ready to go, which includes a projection screen, a computer for power point and numerous phone lines that would be needed during a hurricane evacuation."
Among the training slated to take place there are regional GEMA classes. Anderson said he anticipates this facility will open more doors for training because the center should be a draw for instructors.
"The commissioners were very forward looking in projecting what the county needs for emergency management. This has really put us where we need to be as far as preparedness," Anderson said.
County Commissioner Toby Roberts said the commissioners pushed for this center because "growth within the county has placed a bigger demand for fire protection and emergency management. People always think of just hurricanes, but that’s not the only type of emergency where this center would prove valuable. With all the rise in interstate and highway traffic in the county, the likelihood increases for chemical and hazardous material spills."
Roberts said a high priority is placed on emergency management by the county commission and he said the current county emergency employees are doing a commendable job.
"I can not say enough about all of our emergency management workers on both ends of county - from Mike Smith on the south end to Jimmy Cook in the north end, and Jim Anderson is doing a fantastic job heading it up. Much of our emergency work is done on a volunteer basis and they put a lot more time into it than any of us realize. If any of us here in the county were to have a house fire and dial 911, we want the most trained help and the best equipment to assist us. I think Bryan County does pretty well in that regard."
Roberts also said he projects there will be a fire station eventually added to the Belfast Siding area once the thousands of homes in the Terra Pointe development start building out.
The headquarters facility is not finished building out. Sixty feet of parking space will be added. The biggest addition will be the $620,000, 45-foot mobile command vehicle which will find its home at the facility upon delivery on Jan. 31. It will include seven working stations, a TV-grade camera system able to watch live events as they unfold and a satellite television and satellite communication abilities.
A new fire truck, slated to arrive in March, will also be housed at the headquarters. Anderson said two new county ambulances will soon be on the street as well.