Los Angeles Emergency Operations integrates emergency response technologies.
With its unique topography, diverse population and location squarely in the center of one of the most seismically active areas in the world, it's not hard to see why. Los Angeles County includes 88 cities and 136 unincorporated areas for a combined population of almost 9.1 million on 4,083 square miles. The terrain varies from coastal plains to mountains to desert, ranging from nine feet below sea level to 10,000 feet above sea level. Accelerated seismic activity is predicted for the foreseeable future.
Emergencies here are neither rare nor are they ever small matters. In almost every case, emergency response teams -- comprised of representatives from the Sheriff's Office, Chief Administrative Office, Fire, Public Works, Internal Services, Health Services, Public Social Services and Coroner -- are called upon to work together to resolve the crisis.
In the past, coordinating emergency response efforts was difficult. In many cases, the professionalism, training and heroism of various law enforcement and emergency response agencies (and the efficiency of tested emergency procedures) carried the day. However, in the early 1990s, it became clear that another tool was necessary to protect the growing population of Los Angeles. And so in April 1995, Los Angeles County christened its new, state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Most EOCs in this country were designed and built in the 1950s. While many of them protect well against nuclear threats, most are ill-equipped to handle disasters as they happen today. They are usually bunker-style concrete facilities built into hillsides with tables, chairs and a few phone lines.
Unfortunately, for the disaster most likely to strike the Los Angeles area -- an earthquake -- that kind of facility, in all likelihood, would be so severely damaged it would be rendered unusable. Communication, which is the single most important element during any disaster response, would be jeopardized, as phone lines are one of the first communication links to be lost in an earthquake.
The Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center is a 36,322-square-foot facility fully dedicated to emergency management. Its design and systems are based on the need for 24-hour operation of the facility during any and all emergencies in a completely self-sufficient, safe environment for a period of seven days without resupply. All mechanical and electrical systems, as well as all technical support systems, have full backup systems in place.
The facility itself is designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.3, and is protected by base-isolation technology. According to Eloy Retamal, the project's structural engineer, the entire building rests on 28 base isolators (elastomeric bearings) that allow the building to move 16 inches in any horizontal direction. This absorbs ground-motion energy and protects all mission personnel and equipment. All of the utility connections also are flexible and capable of moving with the building, so no utilities would be lost due to movement of the facility.
The core of the EOC is the Incident Management Center, also called "The Situation Room." There, using the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS), each of the eight county departments essential to emergency response are represented by their own team members, with dedicated computer workstations for each department. The centralization of the Incident Management Center is a crucial component in the coordination and sharing of information, ensuring that resources are directed to the areas most in need during a crisis.
"State-of-the-art mapping technology enables response teams to pinpoint, down to street level, everything from where utilities are located to where the nearest emergency vehicle is positioned," says Lt. Steve Gattis, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's project liaison and on-site project manager. "Our audio/video system allows constant monitoring of all major networks and satellite transmissions, keeping personnel aware of changes as they happen, regardless of the operational capacity of local news agencies.
When designing the EOC, the first concern was to have the appropriate technology to enhance the county's ability to deal with emergencies. It was important that the facility be housed in a structure that could withstand almost any kind of disaster itself. But the facility also was designed to accommodate the third critical element in any disaster: the people in charge.
The Los Angeles County EOC was carefully designed for the safety and comfort of the emergency personnel who must work and live there when disaster strikes.
"Emergency personnel are people," says Gattis. "They have loved ones, friends and property that are affected by disasters. Realizing that stress will be high, every facet of the EOC was designed with the idea that people were going to have to perform at the peak of their abilities while under tremendous pressure."
Dormitory quarters, a kitchen, a food-storage area and a dining room are provided. Even the chairs at each respective workstation are ergonomically designed to reduce back stress and, if necessary, recline for a quick nap.
Careful attention was paid to light and sound in the EOC and the Incident Management Center. Though there is abundant artificial lighting for emergency operations on the first floor, great effort was taken to ensure the availability of natural light for personnel who work in the building on a daily basis. The acoustics also were designed so that noise would be kept to a minimum.
Natural and man-made disasters are a fact of life in Los Angeles County. While most would prefer never to have to use the EOC, county officials know that natural and manmade emergencies are an inevitable part of their future. The new Los Angeles County Emergency Operations Center will ensure that the county's citizens and leaders are better informed and protected into the next century.
Sherman Block is sheriff of Los Angeles County and serves as Los Angeles County's Director of Emergency Operations. Susan Keegan Gary is vice president of the international architectural/engineering firm of Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM).