In the wake of a disaster, the new Independence/Eastern Jackson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will, Independence Mayor Don Reimal declared, "save many lives." Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders joined the mayor, United States Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (Missouri 5th District), as well as other local, state and federal officials for a March 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony at the EOC, housed inside Independence Fire Station No. 1.
In addition to weather radar equipment and links to information directly from the National Weather Service, the 5,000 square foot facility features a state-of-the-art radio system that would be utilized to coordinate responses to a regional disaster.
"This is one of those facilities you hope gets constructed and then hope never has to be used in its intended capacity," stressed Sanders.
The EOC is a joint Jackson County/City of Independence project. It was paid for primarily through federal grants, combined with funding from both the county and Independence.
"This facility puts Jackson County ahead of the curve in terms of emergency management and disaster preparedness," said Jackson County Director of Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security Michael Curry. "Because of the teamwork between our county and the City of Independence, we will be able to provide a valuable resource to our entire region."
Dante Gliniek, Statewide Volunteer Coordinator for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), agrees. He called the new EOC an embodiment of the four "C's" -- communication, collaboration, cooperation and coordination -- needed to "conduct the business of emergency preparedness."
He said, "No where in Missouri or any locale that I've worked -- and I've worked in about 26 states in emergency operations -- is there greater communication, collaboration, cooperation and coordination than right here in the Greater Kansas City metro area and especially in Jackson County and the City of Independence."
Added Gliniek, "The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses the term 'whole community' to describe how communities should work together -- faith-based organizations, government, private sector, all aspects -- on all phases of emergency management. The EOC's opening, he stated, further cements Jackson County's status as a leader both in Missouri and nationally in how best to "mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters."
Of the 347 EOC grant applications the federal government received during the 2010 fiscal year, eastern Jackson County's was among just 20 selected to receive FEMA funding.
"While many look to FEMA when disaster strikes, we all know that the response begins here, at the local level," FEMA Region VII Administrator Beth Freeman said.
Sanders praised Congressman Cleaver for helping secure the necessary federal dollars to make the EOC a reality. Following the May 2011 tornado that devastated Joplin, Cleaver contacted local officials in the Kansas City area, asking them what they required to respond to a similar tragedy."We all came together," Sanders noted, "and said, 'Congressman, we need this facility.' He went to work in Washington, D.C. to bring these dollars back here to make sure that by planning today and opening this facility we can save lives tomorrow."
"This is a good day," Cleaver said during the dedication ceremony. "We are all here to make sure we maximize our ability to protect this community, whether it's a tornado or a flood. And those things do happen. They do happen. No one can tell us we are going to be exempt."
Reimal and Sanders both expressed gratitude to the volunteers who worked on completing EOC.
"The volunteers who worked to get this done are a group of people who'll probably never tell you they do that much," Reimal said. "But they did a great deal to put this facility together. It is with a great deal of gratitude that I say to those volunteers, 'Thank you very much.'"
Also on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony were Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams (2nd At-Large District), Independence At-Large Councilman Jim Schultz, Lee's Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads, Blue Springs Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Quibell and Missouri State Legislator (District 51) Ira Anders.