CONTROL CENTRAL: The new Emergency Operation Center was officially opened at the Public Safety Facility on Thursday. (Kevin Herrera kevinh@smdp.com)

PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Conjuring images of the bridge on the starship Enterprise, City Manager Rod Gould on Thursday unveiled the newly-remodeled Emergency Operation Center (EOC), a state-of-the-art facility that will serve as the control room during major events like the Los Angeles Marathon, as well as man-made and natural disasters.

Instead of Capt. James T. Kirk, Ken Semko, City Hall’s emergency manager, will be at the helm, directing a staff of over 30 people who will be in charge of coordinating traffic, dispatching police and firefighters and communicating with other agencies in the region.

The roughly $400,000 facility, located on the second floor of the Public Safety Facility, which houses the police and fire departments, is completely self-sufficient and can run for days on emergency generators in case of a power failure, Semko said.

It includes a multi-screen video wall (not as big as the U.S.S. Enterprise, though) with eight, 55-inch high-definition TVs, a SMART Board (think high-tech whiteboard) and video conferencing capabilities. There is also a wall with moveable whiteboards for brainstorming and note taking.

Those assigned to the center will have their own independent work stations that allow them to plug right into City Hall’s mainframe, set up multiple computers or charge cell phones.

There’s even a kitchen, noise-cancelling head phones and a large printer used to create detailed maps of Santa Monica that can include tsunami evacuation routes or other graphics.

“It is by far the most sophisticated in the state,” said Gould, who along with the chiefs of the fire and police departments and the director of Public Works are the only people who can activate the center in the event of an emergency.

In designing the facility, Semko said city officials visited emergency operation centers across California to get a feel for what works best. Semko was so bold as to say that the Santa Monica facility is one of the “most technologically advanced” EOCs in the state.

“You can virtually live in this EOC now,” Semko said.

The remodeled center features a new layout, with staff performing similar functions grouped together to achieve better communication.

 

‘Carmageddon returns’

 

Communication will be critical during the weekend of Sept. 29-30, also known as “Carmageddon II,” when both directions of Interstate 405 from Interstate 10 to U.S. Route 101 will be closed for the demolition of the remaining side of the Mulholland Bridge.

The demolition is part of a $1 billion expansion of car-pool lanes on the San Diego Freeway. The project is expected to be completed in 2013.

The 405 is the nation’s busiest freeway, according to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is responsible for the project along with Caltrans. Half-a-million motorists drive this portion of the 405 over a typical weekend.

While the first “Carmageddon” closure did not create headaches for motorists in Santa Monica and was relatively tame elsewhere, local public safety officials are preparing for the worse nonetheless.

On Friday, Sept. 28, ramps along the 10-mile closure area will begin to be shut down as early as 7 p.m. and closure of individual freeway lanes will begin at 10 p.m. The closure is expected to continue until 5 a.m. Monday, Oct. 1. Ramps and connectors should be reopened by 6 a.m., county transportation officials said.

The potential for gridlock is markedly greater this time due to several factors, officials said. First, public apathy increases risk following an aggressive internationally publicized outreach campaign warning of extreme road and freeway congestion that was successfully averted last year. More motorists may be tempted to rejoin local roads and freeways, which has the potential to create the very traffic congestion and multi-hour delays transportation and law enforcement officials have warned about.

Officials also said that the contractor will most likely take longer to complete the work, which is said to be more extensive and complicated.

Those who must travel during that weekend are advised to plan ahead, monitor real-time traffic conditions prior to beginning their trips and follow alternative routes that are provided.

Robin Gee, public information manager for City Hall, said city officials will be posting to Twitter and City Hall’s web page (smgov.net/405) during the “Carmageddon” weekend to provide the latest traffic information and updates on construction. People can also visit www.metro.net for information on the 405 project and on alternative forms of transit, and go511.com for traffic maps.

Gee also recommends that those who haven’t already signed up for SM Alerts do so. SM Alerts is a notification system from the Office of Emergency Management at City Hall that uses text messages and other forms of communication to alert people to road closures or emergencies.

 

kevinh@smdp.com