Lee County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) serves an important role in the safety of the residents of within the county. It is the warning center for both natural and man-made hazards that threaten the area and it serves as a focal point for coordination of emergency response and recovery activities.
During an emergency it is staffed with representatives from first responder agencies, county officials, emergency relief agencies, municipalities, utility companies, media personnel as well as other agencies deemed essential. It helps to establish, maintain, and share situational awareness, provides ready access to essential information, improves continuity, promotes resource identification and assignment, and facilitates long-term operations. It also hosts training sessions.
Since construction, the facility has weathered two significant storms – Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Ian in 2022.
Hurricane Irma started as a Category 4 storm in the Florida Keys and was reported as a Category 3 storm with wind speed near 115 mph when it made landfall affecting Lee County.
Damages included $104.4 million in commercial losses, $725.9 million in residential losses and $4.4 million in other losses. The facility was not damaged and during the storm hosted more than 110 people, representing approximately 60 agencies.
Just shy of being reported a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Ian had a peak wind gust of 155 mph and wreaked havoc with its storm surge reaching 13.23 feet. This storm impacted 44,000 homes and over 6,000 businesses for an estimated loss over 5 billion dollars.
Built in the 1970’s, Lee County’s former Emergency Operations Center (EOC)was designed to serve as a nuclear fallout shelter and did not have an all-hazards or hurricanes in mind. It was constructed at an elevation of 23 feet above sea level, able to withstand 130 mph winds, had an outdated communications system, and lacked the capacity to accommodate additional staff essential during an emergency. In addition, the EOC could only remain fully operational for three days.
At an approximate cost of $15 million, construction of the 29,000 square-foot building began in 2011 and was completed in 2012. The project included federal and state grant programs to supplement the local funding.
Upon completion of construction, the FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) covered the cost of a Code Plus project. The project included a wind retrofit that brought the building above the required Florida Building Code Specifications. Aluminum panel shutters and storm shield hurricane barriers were installed. Some of the shutters are operated manually while others are fixed.
The total cost of the project was $4.1 million. The federal share was 75% and non-federal cost share was $1.029 million.
With these added measures, the millions of dollars spent on new construction and hardening of the facility are considered “money well spent.”
The Emergency Operations Center was built to withstand a Category 5 storm surge and winds up to 200 mph. It has the capacity to function independently and maintain communications for up to 10 days. Elevated 32 feet above sea level, the building has a reserve supply of generators and potable water, standard and redundant chillers with ice tanks, and state-of-the-art communications systems.
“We have three separate generators. Each has the capacity to power the facility independently for 10 days,” said Lee County Public Safety Director. “In other words, we have a backup for the backup, which assures that we would not have lack of power and that we can remain fully operational.”