Gillibrand secures $2 million Fed grant towards new emergency operations center for Orleans

Photo by Tom Rivers: U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand right, was in Albion today to present a ceremonial $2 million check to Orleans County officials, including Justin Niederhofer, the emergency manager director; and Lynne Johnson, chairwoman of the County Legislature. The money will go towards a new emergency operations center that would cost about $12 million.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 August 2023 at 1:19 pm

ALBION – Orleans County is $2 million closer to building a new emergency operations center. The county needs about $10 million more to replace a bunker-style civil defense center on West Countyhouse Road.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand met with county officials today to present a ceremonial check for $2 million. That is the maximum in federal aid the county could receive for the project, said Justin Niederhofer, the county’s emergency management director.

The county also has applied for a $2.4 million state grant and is awaiting whether that will be approved. There isn’t a set timetable on when the new building will be constructed. The funding secured by Gillibrand needs to be spent by the end of 2025.

The emergency management office was built as early 1960s bomb shelter. It has a leaking roof and a shortage of space.

The current building is 8,000 square feet – 80 by 100 feet. Most of the structure is underground. It isn’t handicapped accessible and doesn’t have enough space for the emergency management office, Niederhofer said.

The new building is planned to be about 17,000 feet. That includes about 11,000 square feet for offices and classrooms, and another 5,600 square feet for equipment storage.

The county’s backup dispatcher center would be there, as well as training space for firefighters and other first responders. There are three full-time employees that work out of the building. There is also space for ham operators to operate if the communications systems totally fail.

“The new facility will be ADA compliant, appropriately sized to accommodate all needed staff, support equipment and allow for the emergency operations center to be at a ready state,” Niederhofer said. “It will ensure the EOC can be operational in minutes versus hours, while simultaneously utilizing the backup dispatch and the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service, which provides back up communication capabilities during disasters.”

Kirsten Gillibrand greets firefighters and first responders, including Scott Buffin, the assistant EMO director for the county.

Gillibrand said the federal funding will assist Orleans in having a modern facility where first responders can plan and be quickly deployed to help residents in all kind of emergencies.

The $12 million preliminary price for the new project includes taking down two radio towers – one is 485 feet tall and the other is 225 feet – and replacing them with one tower that would be about 300 feet high.

The initial civil defense center cost $107,000 to build, County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson said.

Construction costs have dramatically risen since then, especially since the Covid pandemic.

Johnson said the county “is in desperate need of an upgrade” at the site. She thanked Gillibrand for advocating for the county to be awarded the federal funding.

“Through Sen. Gillibrand’s unyielding dedication to public safety, and her genuine compassion for the people she serves, she has secured $2 million to help us build a brand-new Emergency Management Office,” Johnson said.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand gets a tour of the current emergency management office, which was built as an underground bunker.

Justin Niederhofer, right, said the site is too small for many training classes and programs, as well as other services and storage needs for the emergency management office.

A preliminary site plan by LaBella Associates puts the new building next to the current structure. It would be west of the current building and would include parking.

County officials are expected to seek more detailed designs from LaBella as the project moves forward.

Kirsten Gillibrand meets long-time ham radio operators Bruce Sidari, center, and Terry Cook. They both said they welcome a more modern facility.