New citywide ‘emergency coordination center’ comes to Powellhurst-Gilbert

Find out why City officials say this new building is needed – and, why it’s being located in outer East Portland …

Josh Stein, of MWA Architects, points out features of the new PBEM Emergency Coordination Center to Mayor Sam Adams.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It’s not easy to see from SE Powell Boulevard, but southwest of Ed Benedict Park, an important new building is being built on SE Bush Street at SE 99th Avenue.

“We’re here for the groundbreaking of the new, state-of-the-art emergency coordination center,” Carmen Merlo, Director, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) told East Portland News on June 1.

“From this location, we’ll be able to immediately coordinate emergency communications – be it a localized event, or a large-scale regional event, like a major earthquake.”

The City’s current Bureau of Emergency Communication building, in the Powellhurst Gilbert neighborhood, works well for housing the “9-1-1 Center”, but isn’t equipped to house large-scale emergencies.

Merlo reminded that currently, their “command center” is inadequate. “We’re literally using an empty classroom upstairs at the Bureau of Emergency Communication (BOEC) 9-1-1 Center facility – which means we can’t sustain a complex, evolving event that will likely go for days and weeks – perhaps for months.”

Their current coordination center space is also awkwardly situated. “Rooms used for emergency response are on two different floors – that are not connected by a common staircase. We have to go outside, around the building, to get from the upstairs classroom to the downstairs radio communications center”.

During the October, 2007 “Top-Off” nationwide emergency drill, this ill-equipped classroom at the BOEC building was pressed into service as Portland’s “Emergency Command Center”. East Portland News archive photo

The new purpose-built structure in mid-County, Merlo continued, “Will be a ‘permanent home’; co-locating not only the Emergency Coordinating Center, but also its staff. Now, it takes staff time to get out here [from downtown], and set up – wasting valuable emergency response time.”

Portland Mayor Sam Adams says the new Emergency Communications Center has been five years in the making.

During formal remarks preceding the groundbreaking, Portland Mayor Sam Adams commended the involved city bureaus for their cooperation.

“This is a facility that the city has long needed,” commented Adams. “For the past five years, we’ve actively worked on getting it built. We will have the kind of facility that will allow us to better prepare for, and better manage, any disaster that might strike Portland – from the occasional inch of snow that seems to shut the City down, to emergencies of a far greater magnitude.”

Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard tells how the location for the new facility was decided.

During formal remarks preceding the groundbreaking, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard talked about his involvement with the project.

“In 2007, Mayor Tom Potter put me in charge of relocating the Emergency Communications Center,” Leonard began. “The plan at the time was to add onto the current BOEC 9-1-1 Center, just east of the building – extending it into [Ed Benedict Park].”

Obtaining parks land proved to be “challenging”, as Leonard put it. “It quickly became apparent to me it was going to be a struggle, and that we might not ever get permission to get the land that we wanted, to build this building.”

City officials and dignitaries gather on the lawn, south of Portland’s current BOEC building, marking the start of construction for the new PBEM Emergency Communication Center.

With the TriMet yard to the west, Leonard said, he looked south – to a plot of land on which were houses. “A knock on those houses’ doors led to the City negotiating … for their purchase. It’s a great spot for the new Emergency Communication Center.”

Also in the new building, Leonard went on, will be co-housed Portland Water Bureau Security, now located in North Portland. “With people there 24/7, monitoring Water Bureau facilities, they’ll provide extra on-site security for the building.”

It’s a four-part $19.8 million project, says Carmen Merlo, Director, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.

Director Merlo thanked the City’s leadership, and told about the building. The new $19.8 million project has four main components, she said:

  • A new building,
  • A parking lot,
  • A 150-foot telecommunications tower, and
  • Relocation of a section of SE Bush Street.


Josh Stein, with MWA Architects added, “The design provides a performance-focused building that satisfies the Bureau’s requirements, and enhances the facility. And, it has lots of ‘green’ features, making it a LEED-certified building.”

Emerick Construction is expected to complete the project by spring of 2014.

Looking off wistfully into the future, Portland Mayor Sam Adams, Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, Portland Water Bureau Director David Shaff and PBEM Director Carmen Merlo together ceremonially turn soil – breaking ground for the City’s new Emergency Communication Center.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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