Operations center helps Pike County provide rapid response to emergencies

Pike County Emergency Management Coordinator David Greenwood stands in the new emergency operations center in Pittsfield. Nine monitors throughout the room along with a smart board and communications equipment provide needed information to make decisions
Posted: Aug. 20, 2012 3:11 pm Updated: Sep. 3, 2012 4:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- David Greenwood would be the first to admit he hopes Pike County never needs to use its latest addition to emergency services.

But standing in front of an interactive display board, Greenwood offers just one example of how a new emergency operations center will benefit the county and its residents.

"Say we have a shooting at Pittsfield High School," Greenwood said, pointing to the school on a Pittsfield map projected on the board. "We can say, ‘Here's the hot zone, block this street, that street,' then print it and hand it out to whoever in here needs a copy."

When rapid response is key, the center brings together the county's decision-makers and the information they need.

"If somebody needs something out in the field -- a bulldozer or sandbags, whatever it may be -- the person in this room is the one designated by whatever agency you have to go through to make the decision to get those items," said Greenwood, Pike County's emergency management coordinator. "We don't have to call 10 different places to get one decision made. We have a person in this room who's going to make that decision."

A long table in the emergency operations center, which is in the basement of the Pike County Jail, could seat representatives from law enforcement, utilities, transportation, the Health Department or anyone else involved in managing the county's response to a tornado, flood or other emergency.

Nine monitors along the walls, along with the interactive display board, can display river levels, areas of power outages, weather radar, even the location of any law enforcement officers in the county.

"We can put anything up that anybody in here would need," Greenwood said.

Aside from adding a podium and installing bulletin boards along the walls lined with computers and monitors, everything is complete in the county's first real emergency operations center.

"We're really fortunate to be able to use this area," Greenwood said.

Establishing the center was a priority for Greenwood, who took over the emergency management services in December 2010 and spends about a quarter of his time on that job and the rest as a sheriff's deputy.

"We had a room over at the courthouse we were supposed to use, but it was more or less where we could find a room with enough chairs," Greenwood said.

With law enforcement involved in almost every aspect of every emergency, the jail's basement provided a much better site.

"It's a central point in the county. It's probably one of the most secure places in Pike County. It's 12 to 15 feet underground with a very secure facility above us," Greenwood said. With a generator to power the jail, "as long as we have natural gas, we're good for power. We do have two full locker rooms for male and female, and of course, it's a jail, so we have bunks and a full kitchen. We could stay down here for quite a while."

Sheriff Paul Petty provided the former unfinished storage space in the jail's basement to house the center.

"Construction was done by the sheriff and a lot of inmates with a lot of talent in construction. I did the electrical. That's what I used to do. I used to be an electrician," Greenwood said. "A grant from (the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System) of approximately $37,000, paid for the computers, monitors, electronics, the Smartboard."

When the county isn't facing an emergency, the center can be used for meetings.

"We don't want it to sit. We want it to be used," Greenwood said. "It's not just for emergencies. That's the main purpose of it, not the sole purpose of it."