New Emergency Coordination Center opens in Portland

The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management recently completed construction on its new Emergency Coordination Center, securing the area's ability to respond to natural and man-made emergencies.

The facility was conceived in 2007 when Portland underwent a full-scale simulated emergency scenario. Public Information Officer Dan Douthit said the exercise made it clear that something needed to change, and the bureau identified features and needs that could be taken care of by the ECC, according to Emergency Management.

The $19.8 million facility opened in January, and is located in eastern Portland. The building is seismically sound, high tech and sustainable.

In preparation for a long-duration earthquake, buckling restrained braces were built into the walls to serve as shock absorbers. The braces were left exposed to enable quick assessment of damage.

The building's computer servers are on base isolators, which also serve as shock absorbers. The location of the building was carefully selected. Douthit said PBEM selected an area where the soil was not highly liquefiable and did not require much mitigation, Emergency Management reports.

"We think this is one of the most seismically sound buildings in Oregon, and we see it not just as an asset for the people of Portland but for the entire region," Douthit said, according to Emergency Management. "We're using this site as an opportunity to work closely with our partners, so if something happens on the Oregon coast or elsewhere in the region, this building could benefit the response to that."

PBEM Director Carmen Merlo said workstations are arranged around an Incident Command System, and a Joint Information Center would enable staff to stay up to date with social media while reaching out to the press and public in the case of an emergency, Emergency Management reports.

Douthit said the building would be able to operate off the grid "for some time." The building relies on natural light, uses and energy-efficient heating and ventilation system and reuses rainwater to flush the toilets, according to Emergency Management.