The new Emergency Operating Center will be housed at Bevill State Community College and will serve Walker and eight surrounding counties.
“It is a coordination center of resources. It doesn’t command and control anything. The county EMAs still manage themselves,” state EMA Regional Coordinator Tony Wingo said.
In May 2013, Governor Robert Bentley approved a plan to establish a Field Response Structure for Alabama EMA. The agency now oversees seven divisions divided by geographic region.
The headquarters for Region 5/Division E — which consists of Walker, Fayette, Lamar, Winston, Marion, Lawrence, Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale counties — is currently based in Tuscumbia.
Wingo said the main headquarters for Division E will soon be moved to BSCC, and the Tuscumbia branch will remain open as a secondary location.
Walker County EMA coordinator Regina Myers said the selection of Jasper as a division headquarters is a validation of the work that she and coworker Tommy Davis have put into revamping the office since Myers assumed the role in December.
“We’re making great strides to build it bigger and better, and we’re getting there,” Myers said.
The local office will be activated by Bentley when a disaster is threatening or occurs in any county within the division.
Representatives of Alabama EMA, Alabama Forestry Commission, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Transportation and Alabama National Guard will meet at BSCC’s Jasper campus to monitor the situation and coordinate a timely response.
“We track all the requests coming in from county EMA directors. If we have a resource that we can send, we’ll do that instead of that request having to continue up the chain to the state office,” Wingo said.
State officials saw the need for a Field Response Structure following the April 27, 2011, tornadoes. At that time, Alabama had one state-level Emergency Operating Center in Clanton to respond to requests from 67 county emergency management agencies.
Because almost every region was affected in some way, the state office was overwhelmed by the thousands of messages coming in through its Emergency Management Information Tracking System in the first few hours after the disaster.
According to a recent EMA report, the addition of the divisions will facilitate a better multi-agency response in times of disaster and provide state EMA officials with a clearer awareness of the situation and resource needs of affected areas.
The system is also expected to be more cost-effective, help avoid duplication of resources and ensure a more manageable span of control.
“Before, we had every county wanting something. Now I will just be dealing with a few counties, and there will be a lot of experts in the room to help,” Wingo said.
Alabama EMA is partnering with colleges throughout the state to establish the new divisional headquarters.
“We are happy to be a part of this. It is a service to the community, and it will also provide us with information in the case of an emergency. We’ll have that information firsthand, which will allow us to better serve our students,” BSCC Dean Penne Mott said.