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Debate over proposed first responder dome at city council meeting

Posted at 9:42 PM, Dec 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-04 23:11:35-05


City leaders want to build a new facility to better organize and protect first responders during emergencies. Today, they asked city council to approve the first steps to secure money for the project. However, some council members are concerned it could cost even more in the long run.

Despite all the successes of the response during Hurricane Harvey, city staff agreed there was one big challenge — the location of the city’s emergency operations center.

“We had some electrical problems. The generator kept going in and out, and we finally had to move operations from the Frost Bank building over to the airport,” Corpus Christi Fire Chief Robert Rocha said during today’s city council meeting.

The fifth floor of the Frost Bank building on Leopard has long housed the EOC. But leaders say when it came to housing and protecting city employees during Harvey, the facility didn’t pass the test.

As Rocha explained, “There was a little shake, rattle and roll. If you talk to the people that spent the night there, they experienced some feelings that they never had before.”

Now, city staff wants to build a first responder dome near Corpus Christi International Airport. It would be similar to the FEMA domes around the city. Two of them are located in the Tuloso-Midway School District, another is in Calallen ISD, and the other is on the Del Mar College campus.

The proposed first responder dome would be similar to this FEMA dome at Del Mar College. It’s built to withstand hurricanes up to a Category 5 strength.

The 20,000-square foot facility would be built to withstand the strongest of hurricanes and consolidate city operations during an emergency. Chief Rocha says it would give the city “the ability to put a lot of critical staff in city functions into one building, but a protected building, and a building that would be safe for staff to be in during a storm.”

In order to get it done, city staff wants to apply for a grant with the State of Texas for $6.5 million but it would require a 25 percent match. That means the city would have to commit $1.625 million, a move that city council would have to approve.

Some council members say that’s a lot of money to front for a facility that would cost a lot to maintain, but would only be utilized several days a year.

“We can’t have 20,000 square feet of unused asset for the City of Corpus Christi waiting on those important, but very limited, number of days when it needs to be an EOC,” council member Debbie Lindsey-Opel said.

“You’re using it for emergency management for three to five days, seven days, ten days maybe a year. And the rest of it, you’re just cooling a balloon,” added Mayor Joe McComb, who also cited the potentially high operations cost as another concern.

McComb suggests that city staff should consider another type of structure for a new EOC besides a dome.

“The reasons the schools have them is they play basketball in them. They play tennis in them where they have balls flying all around. You don’t need that,” the mayor said.

However, he is fully behind the idea of moving the EOC from its current location.

“The quality of the people operating … and the equipment in there is good. But, I mean, you’re in there jammed up and jelly tight in that building.”

In the end, council members voted to move the grant application process forward. A second vote is required for final approval. That’s scheduled for the next council meeting on December 11. If it’s approved, the city would have until February 21 to apply for the grant.

Staff says this would be the first of multiple steps before the city knows if it will receive the state grant. The city says once the application is done, it should take about six months to find out if it clears this first hurdle.