The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

May 5, 2013

Hoping to build safe place in city

Emergency Preparedness

By BRAD KELLAR
Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — Whenever the City of Greenville builds a new Fire Station No. 1, it will likely also include a new administration building and an addition where residents can find shelter in the event of severe weather or other emergencies.

The city issued a request for qualifications for a “community safe room” project earlier this year, seeking firms wanting to provide engineering and architectural services relating to the design and construction of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved facility.

But the idea of such an effort is hardly new. Greenville Fire Chief Doug Caison said the city has been hoping to land a FEMA grant since former Chief Kenny Ward was in office six years ago.

“He started applying for it back then,” Caison said, noting “bricks and mortar” grants are available to build specified structures which meet certain federal criteria.

According to the official description, a safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide “near-absolute protection” in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.

Near-absolute protection means that, based on the current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built in accordance with FEMA guidance will have a very high probability of being protected from injury or death.

The community safe room may be included as part of a combined new Fire Station No. 1 and Fire Department Administration Building.

“If we build a new fire administration, we’ll have the emergency operations in there and that would qualify,” Caison said, adding at least a portion of the structure could also serve as a shelter for individuals and families who have nowhere else to go. “The building would be fortified if the need arises.”

The “bricks and mortar” grants were made available following the events of Hurricane Katrina, in order to assist communities in building facilities which could conceivably act as emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters and other emergencies.

City officials have wanted to replace the existing Fire Station No. 1 at 1901 Johnson Street and the current Fire Department Administration Building at 2603 Templeton Street. Fire Station No. 1 opened in 1953.

The administration building is housed in the former Fire Station No. 3, which for years had sat vacant before being put to use when the Fire Department moved from the former Henson Building downtown. The project is expected to cost several million dollars for engineering and construction of the facility.

“It is just a way to kill a lot of birds with one stone and get some government assistance with that, so the city doesn’t have to pay for all of it,” Caison said.