Bellingham, Whatcom County move toward new emergency center

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 27, 2013 

OLYMPICS - BORDER BOUNCEBACK

Sgt. Jeff Beazizo, left, and Lt. Debby Ethredge both of Washington State Patrol talk in the Olympic Coordination Center's communication facility in Bellingham on February 3, 2010. The center was a hub for over 40 agencies on duty 24-hours a day, corresponding to homeland security in relation to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

MARK MALIJAN — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - Whatcom County and the city of Bellingham are taking the first steps toward creating a single emergency operations center inside a Port of Bellingham building near the airport.

The building at 3888 Sound Way was overhauled by federal agencies for use as an emergency operations center during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. Now, local governments hope they can take advantage of the federal investment in the 24,000-square-foot space.

The creation of the new emergency center requires city and county councils and port commissioners to approve a 10-year agreement, effective January 2014, that spells out terms of a lease on the building.

That agreement calls for city and county to split an annual lease payment of about $134,000 to the port.

County Executive Jack Louws said the port is a participant in the project and will contribute by charging less than market rate for the building.

The agreement will be on the agenda at the Port Commission Dec. 3, the City Council Dec. 9, and the County Council Dec. 10.

Assuming the three local governments approve, the next step will be small. In early 2014, the city and county employees who now work together on emergency management planning are expected to move into the new space.

In the first years of the agreement, the city and county will study the costs of moving countywide fire and police dispatch into the building, along with other emergency operations.

The facilities also would be capable of hosting disaster drills and training. Louws said the county's two oil refineries, BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66, expect to rent the center for that purpose, helping to recover some of the public costs.

Consolidation of all emergency services in the building is still a few years off, and there are no firm estimates of cost. Louws said that although the city and county are not yet committed to making the move, he is confident that it will happen.

"I think it's an exciting opportunity for Whatcom County and all the cities and the port," Louws said.

If city and county officials later decide that the consolidation is unworkable for some reason, they can get out of the building lease after four years.

The city and county also have the right to renew the lease in 10-year increments after the first 10 years are up.

In a press release, Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said the city and county work together to plan for and respond to emergencies, and their emergency experts share office space, but both agencies have been working with inadequate space and equipment.

"We have a strong emergency management partnership and have taken many positive steps forward," Linville said. "Working together in an adequately sized, well-equipped facility will enhance our ability to effectively respond to natural disasters and other major events that threaten lives and property."

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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