Construction of a spacious new five-story emergency operations center that’s been proposed for St. Charles Parish won’t come a minute too soon for emergency operations chief Tab Troxler.
Although the EOC response team is well prepared for any emergency, says Troxler, conditions are so bad in the cramped quarters in the basement of the courthouse on River Road in Hahnville that a Katrina-like storm could shut down the equipment they need to do their jobs.
Communications would break down in no time flat, he warned - and parish residents would be on their own. That includes families with small children, people without transportation to evacuate, even vulnerable senior citizens and homebound patients would be helpless with no emergency personnel to turn to.
“The EOC office has been in the basement of the parish courthouse since 1976, and back then, when the population was smaller and we had fewer plants and better levee protection, that might have been okay,” Troxler said.
“But with all of our new equipment, additional workers, and the fact that we are open and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the basement isn’t good enough.
Troxler hopes a proposal to build a new facility will come sooner than 2010 - the year that’s been “floated” for its completion.
And he is actively seeking funding to get the project under way.
During the course of an exclusive interview, Troxler walked down a ramped hallway that leads into a small room where extension cords and a Medusa’s head of wires and plugs keep electricity flowing to $3 million worth of emergency equipment.
“We need more electrical circuits to power our equipment,” said Troxler, shaking his head worriedly.
“This setup simply isn’t adequate, plus it’s extremely hot in here.”
Troxler said the room should be 55 degrees or less at all times to keep the department’s critical computer systems from overheating.
“Right now this room is 75 degrees,” he continued. “If it gets past 80 degrees our systems could fail.
“We have these fans blowing to try to keep things cool in here, but they aren’t sufficient. Don’t forget - we’re in the basement. If it ever floods we could lose all of this equipment.”
Protecting the gear is a major concern. But Troxler worries about his people, too.
“When Hurricane Katrina hit we had to house emergency personnel from the sheriff’s office, fire departments, water department and others,” he said.
“Imagine 60 people staying here with one bathroom and one shower, and a kitchen with no ventilation - it was difficult.
“When desperate residents came here seeking shelter, we had to turn them away because there wasn’t enough room for our own personnel.”
The new EOC facility that Troxler hopes will be approved, funded and built has been proposed as a five-story structure that includes two floors of above-ground parking with three floors - 15,000 square feet - of office space.
That’s big enough to accommodate 80 “first responders” that Troxler said would include representatives from industry, the parish school district, and the sheriff’s office among others.
Other design features on the drawing board are a conference room that would seat 60 people, a parking garage for police, ambulance, and other emergency vehicles, and office suites for individual departments.
“The cost of the project is somewhere between $6 million and $9 million,” Troxler said.
“I’m looking into applying for grant funds to get federal and state assistance with the project,” he added.
“I’ll seek funding from any other source I can think of to get this project started.”
Reach Shonna Riggs at firstname.lastname@example.org