If Fairfax has an emergency in the next few years, the seat of government will stay where it is now, in the county Government Center.
The county is putting the finishing touches on a new, state-of-the-art command center on the first floor of the government building, about 4,000 square feet of laptop computers equipped with elaborate software, radio dispatch systems, phones and spacious conference tables.
It's a temporary fix to replace the cramped emergency operations center at the former Pine Ridge Elementary School, where dozens of county officials coordinated recovery efforts after Hurricane Isabel blew through last September. They did it the old-fashioned way, with phones and blackboards and huddled, standing-room-only briefings.
Pine Ridge, near Little River Turnpike and the Capital Beltway in Annandale, has sufficed in emergencies since 1985. But dozens of public safety and agency workers have been sandwiched into 800 square feet. Cell phone service has been spotty at best, said county spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald. Worse still, the school-based operation has lacked a centralized computer system that would allow emergency officials to track the recovery efforts of other local governments and communicate with thousands of county employees about where power was out and roads were closed, among other conditions.
Enter the Alternative Emergency Operations Center, so named because although it opens in less than two weeks, the center is expected to be obsolete in 2007, the year a new emergency operations and 911 center are scheduled to be combined in a new building on West Ox Road.
Meanwhile, county officials are thrilled at what's been installed in Suite 151-C.
"What we've created is a virtual emergency operations center," said C. Douglas Bass, the county's emergency management coordinator, hired after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. "What that means is, we have technology we didn't have at Pine Ridge."
The new command center has 60 workstations equipped with as many laptop computers, loaded with software that, during a severe storm or other emergency, can post information for responders on road closures, weather conditions, school closings and other circumstances in real time. The computers will be on the same network with regional agencies such as the Virginia Department of Transportation. Also, briefings by county officials will easily be broadcast on Channel 16, the county's cable station, which operates out of the Government Center.
The new command center will officially be ready for business Sept. 13, the day the Board of Supervisors and County Executive Anthony H. Griffin cut a ribbon to mark its completion.
The space formerly stored computer files for the Department of Information Technology. The renovation, endorsed by a consultant who reviewed the county's response to Hurricane Isabel, cost approximately $3 million. About 80 percent was covered by federal and state homeland security grants, Bass said.