Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023|
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Everyone wants to be prepared when disaster strikes, but after the fact is sometimes too late.
The University of Hawaii at Hilo is taking a proactive approach to preparedness by opening a new Emergency Operations Center that will be used as a central command hub in the event of emergency.
Dozens gathered Friday for an hourlong unveiling of the new center. The event included a blessing, an open house and words from lawmakers, campus leaders and Chancellor Donald Straney.
The $5.8 million project was “a couple years in the making,” according to Campus Security Director Darrell Mayfield.
The money funded new equipment, upgrades and an addition to the University Classroom Building. The center features a hall of new rooms including a dispatch center, which allows dispatchers to continually monitor a 200-camera video surveillance system. It also has a kitchenette, a bathroom with a shower and emergency supplies.
The center also will house the UH-Hilo Campus Security Department on a day-to-day basis.
Lawmakers appropriated capital improvement funding for the project in the 2014-15 fiscal year. Previously, the school used a large computer classroom as its emergency center and a room in the auxiliary services building for campus security.
“The Big Island has had experience with a lot of natural disasters,” said Marcia Sakai, vice chancellor of administrative affairs at UH-Hilo. “The Emergency Operations Center will be a place for us to collect and decide how we would manage university operations during an event of any kind of magnitude.”
A central command area is important when disasters occur. In 2014, shortly after Tropical Storm Iselle hit, Red Cross teams used the UH-Hilo center to organize.
“You can look at stuff like this and say you don’t need it until you need it,” Mayfield said. “But then it’s kind of too late. School communities and parents want their students to feel like they’re safe at school. They want to see a school with the facilities needed for them to feel that way.”
An emergency operations facility isn’t required, but some schools and businesses have one. The University of Hawaii at Manoa has its own designated center, as does Hawaii Electric Light Co., according to Darryl Oliveira, former Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator.
“Many others (have one) informally, by setting up a place for their team to collect and assemble and discuss roles they have,” Oliveira said Friday. “Proactive is what they’re (often) doing to deal with today’s safety and security needs.”
The UH-Hilo’s Campus Security Department received a number of upgrades in recent years. The department installed more than 100 new security cameras in the past year and also added an incident reporting and tracking software system that allows for quick and easy updates to the campus crime blog.
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