State ready for disasters with MEMA’s state-of-the-art emergency center

The MEMA building serves as the headquarters and nerve center for the agency.

Mississippi has had its share of natural disasters with deadly and devastating tornadoes, flooding and hurricanes. Manmade disasters such as oil and chemical spills and train wrecks are no strangers either. With no guarantee these disasters will pass us by in the future, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is prepared to respond and help residents recover. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located in Pearl plays a major role in the agency’s preparedness.

It’s reassuring to know the facility was built to endure. The pre-cast concrete, steel-reinforced building was completed in 2006 using state and federal funds at a cost of $15,095,595. A breakdown of funds includes $6.62 million in a federal grant, $1.7 million from Homeland Security, and $8.2 million financed through state bonds. The EOC facility has 47,000 square feet.

“It’s designed with the top floor at ground level that can withstand winds between 160 and 180 miles per hour,” said Greg Flynn, MEMA’s external affairs director. “All systems in the building have redundancy and stand-alone capabilities for 72 hours. The EOC is built on eight acres and is a two-story, concrete frame building with pre-cast concrete panels.”

MEMA executive director Robert Latham calls the Emergency Operations Center a state-of-the-art facility which becomes the nerve center for the state of Mississippi during emergencies and disasters. “The center provides a safe and secure facility for elements of state government, including the governor and his staff, to provide continuity of government for the state and to support local governments when disaster strikes,” he said. “Resources from the state and federal government, as well as donated goods and services, are dispatched to affected areas from this facility to support areas of the state that may have been affected as a result of disaster.”

Latham, who was appointed executive director by Gov. Phil Bryant in January, points out that planning and design for the facility began in February 2000. MEMA moved into the new facility in August 2006, and since then the building has been activated on multiple occasions to support local and state response to disasters.

“While the new facility allows us to coordinate emergency preparations, response and recovery, I can’t stress enough the need for individuals to improve their preparedness efforts,” he said. “We need to change the culture of preparedness in our state so that lives can be saved before a disaster ever takes place. The more our residents are prepared, the faster our recovery will be following an event.”

The mission of MEMA is to ensure that Mississippi is prepared to respond to emergencies, recover from them, and mitigate against their impacts. The state agency is divided into five offices, which are mitigation, preparedness, recovery, response and support services. Mitigation helps prevent damage and loss of life and property in future disasters. Preparedness is in charge of all emergency plans and training programs in the state. Recovery is in charge of all recovery operations such as public assistance reimbursement. Response is in charge of coordinating the state’s response to any type of natural or manmade emergency through the EOC. Support services is in charge of all financial and personnel issues for the agency. MEMA has nine districts in the state with an area coordinator assigned to each district as a liaison between MEMA and the county emergency operations centers.

In addition to the State Emergency Operations Center building, MEMA’s Pearl campus includes a maintenance building, which is also constructed of pre-cast concrete, and a guard house constructed of cinder block.

Latham is serving a second tour of duty with MEMA. He previously served as executive director from February 2000 through June 2006. During that time he managed the state’s preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation efforts for eleven federal disaster declarations, including Hurricane Katrina, which was Mississippi’s and the nation’s worst natural disaster ever.

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