By Ron Leir
Right now, it’s silent as the tomb but if and when Hudson County’s new Office of Emergency Management “situation room” is put to the test, you’d have every reason to believe it’ll be as active as a post-9/11 FBI command center.
The emergency Ops Center is an 80-foot by 120-foot carpeted facility on the second floor of the newly dedicated USS Juneau Center Plaza on S. Hackensack Ave. in South Kearny.
This is where OEM and its allies will respond days in advance of “notice” events such a hurricane or the upcoming Super Bowl and “no notice” incidents like a haz-mat chemical spill, explosion, flooding or terrorist attack.
“If anything goes wrong at the Super Bowl [in East Rutherford], we’ll be the first county – outside of Bergen which will have people on site – to provide support,” said Hudson County OEM Coordinator James T. Woods.
Until that – or something equally disruptive – happens, plans call for OEM to move its day-to-day operations, from its current location in Secaucus, to 830 Bergen Ave. in Jersey City.
Need for the Ops Center –and related equipment and rolling stock – all financed by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, is more than justified, Woods asserted, since Hudson “has the highest risk assessment rating in New Jersey,” given the region’s passenger mass transit infrastructure, rail freight system and huge chemical plants that could unleash massive natural disasters or that could be sabotaged.
Also prospective targets are the clandestine Wall St. data centers that record transactions, situated on this side of the Hudson, which, according to Woods, “are critical to the world market” and which, he said, could result in global repercussions if compromised.
Inside the Ops Center are work stations, outfitted with desktop PCs to focus on various at-risk locations and phones, reserved for up 60 public emergency personnel, handling law enforcement/ security, firefighting, shelter and food logistics, and EMS, among other things, plus one for “private sector” representatives, who could be part of a mobilization effort.
There is additional seating to accommodate another 30 or so emergency personnel from various jurisdictions.
Equipped with wireless technology, the room also features two large smart boards and eight 70-inch monitors allowing personnel to focus on disaster scenes, plus a wireless microphone system for briefing sessions, and electronically controlled window shutters to admit or shut out light.
“It’s our answer to NASA [National Aeronautics Space Agency],” said Woods, who is a retired Harrison battalion fire chief. “This is the heartbeat of any big emergency.”
Immediately adjacent to the situation room is a small room – away from the hurly burly, where the coordinator and key personnel can huddle to map out strategy for containing a toxic plume, rescuing civilian victims, lining up shelter and food, etc.
On the same floor is a 24- feet by 40-feet media room for press briefings, outfitted with 24 seats and data lines for eight computers, a 70-inch display monitor and phones, which can be shared with Regional Ops & Intel Center and N.J. State Police, or which can also be used to conduct training.
Below, on the ground floor of the Juneau Center’s garage, OEM personnel can draw from a varied motor pool and supplies, as needed, to help execute logistical maneuvers.
In the mix are eight 3,200-gallon water tanker trucks [used recently to convey potable water to downtown Jersey City residents following a water main break], six 40-foot extension light towers providing up to 500 kw for power outages, forklifts for loading supplies, a 45-footlong mobile command unit acquired seven years ago, 12 John boats for flood rescues, dozens of cases of low sodium MERs [meal equivalent rations], nearly 200 electric space heaters [donated by a flooded warehouse in Rockland County] and 800 cots for municipal shelters.
Over the last decade, Homeland Security has invested “many millions” of dollars in a rehabilitation of the Juneau Center building, rolling stock and equipment on behalf of the county’s OEM, Woods said.