By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
In the event of a major disaster in Hill County, city and county officials will be ready after a new emergency operations center is opened in the basement of Havre City Hall next week.
The approximately 1,200-square-foot room, which has been planned for four years, has Internet connections, phone lines and cable television so the mayor, city department heads, and county commissioners can monitor a situation and present a coordinated response to disasters ranging from a fire to a tornado to a train wreck.
"Other than a major flood, we should be able to use that room for just about any disaster that may confront us," said Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson, adding that in a flood, officials would use the Hill County Detention Center because City Hall would be in the flood plain.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the room fills a need that has been recognized by both city and county officials.
"Now I know that when we have a disaster, we have a place where we can meet," said Rice, who said he knows from his U.S. Navy experience helping deal with a Los Angeles earthquake in the 1980s that the biggest problem in disasters is communication.
"You have to have a central point of communication," Rice said. "Coordination has to come from one (group)."
"Hopefully we will never have to use it for anything other than meetings," he added.
Olson said the idea for the room originated before the 9/11 attacks, when city officials from the public works, police and fire departments decided they needed a multipurpose space for training, meetings and emergency preparedness.
The idea came in part after disaster training exercises conducted in the basement of the old jail were hindered by limited space and no telephone jacks, Olson said.
The public works department developed the floor plans three years ago for the 36-by-38-foot room. The project, which cost about $15,000, was paid for with the city's capital outlay plan, which allows money left over in the budget at the end of each year to be designated for projects. It took three years to get enough money, Olson said.
City workers began construction last fall and finished about two weeks ago.
Phone and Internet connections have already been installed, and the county paid for two televisions. The room also has a bathroom, a kitchenette and a space for a ceiling-mounted projector. Computers are not yet in place, Rice said.
All that's needed for the center to become operational, Rice said, are the chairs and tables. Those items were taken care of on Saturday, when Havre resident Tillie S. Patterson donated $3,250 to buy furniture.
Patterson said she was approached by Rice about a week ago and was told he city needed help to start the center.
"The disaster center is something we don't have and something we needed in these terrible times," Patterson said.
Patterson's name will be mounted on a metal plaque on the door of the room.
Patterson has donated to numerous Havre charities and causes. She gave $10,000 to help complete Robert Patterson Memorial Park in the late 1980s. Her husband, Robert, died in 1985.
She also gave $10,000 in 2002 to the Soroptimists International for scholarships to Montana State University-Northern. In 1977 Patterson and her husband donated the land to complete 12th Avenue between Ninth and 13th streets.
The room should be operational next week, Rice said.
"We're all extremely excited and I can't pay enough compliments to public works and their personnel for doing such a fine job," Olson said.
"It turned out really nice and the city employees did all the work," except for the carpet, Rice said.