Kern disaster response upgraded with new emergency operation center

Kern disaster response upgraded with new emergency operation center
On the one year anniversary of "Katrina," Kern County is set to remedy a gap in local disaster plans. It was a problem that also plauged disaster crews during the hurricane. The county will spend up to $3-million to build a new "emergency operations center."

Kern's current emergency center is too small and badly outdated. The lack of an adqeuate emergency center in New Orleans is one of the problems disaster crews struggled with during last year's deadly storm.

Bakersfield resident Wendy Wayne spent a month helping with disaster response in New Orleans. She saw problems with their emergency center first-hand.

"There were folks that weren't capable of delivering in a timely basis and others that could not step up to the plate becasue they weren't aware of it," Wayne told Eyewitness News.

Kern County knows their small conference room at the communications center just doesn't do the job. It doesn't have enough space, lacks adequate communications gear, and the room is used for other purposes.

Disaster response crews say they'd have a tough time setting up quickly, getting important information in, and getting assistance out where it was needed.

Fifth District County Supervisor Michael Rubio says it's vital to have an adequate emergency center because Kern County faces a number of disaster risks.

Rubio says we could be a target for terrorism. "The vast majorities of the water that Southern California enjoys go through the County of Kern. Then we look at the San Andreas Fault and the risk of earthquakes, and we're also at risk because of the Lake Isabella dam."

The dam is now considered the most at-risk in the nation by the Corps of Engineers.

Next week, County Supervisors review the proposed budget for 2006-'07. In his budget message, County Administrative Officer Ronald Errea says the new emergency center is the "most significant" new building proposal.

Errea says the recommended regular County Budget totals $1.3 billion, which is about 14% more than last year. The county has more money to spend, because property taxes went up thanks to last year's strong real estate values and crude oil prices.

But, the CAO notes those higher revenues may not continue. "The budget also recognizes that the high rate of revenue growth the County has enjoyed over the past few fiscal years will not likely remain at the current levels." reads his budget report.

It's not clear yet when the new emergency operations center will be built. It's set to go in on property at the county communications center. The $3-million ear-marked for the project is set to pay for design and construction of the center, and building a Fire Department aircraft hangar.

Rubio, says with one-time money -- it's a good idea to build projects like the emergency operations center.

"I think it's very a prudent way for use these dollars," Rubio told Eyewitness News. "It's one-time, capital projects money that's going to build brick-and-mortar. And I think it's extremely responsible on our part."

County supervisors will review the budget proposal Monday evening in a session that starts at 7:00 p.m. They spend all day Tuesday going over the budget plan.