5/8/2012 10:35:00 AM Be prepared: Grand Canyon builds state of the art Emergency Operations Center Facility completed in three stages over the course of close to eight years
Acting Director of Emergency Operations at Grand Canyon Dave Van Inwagen views information on one of the Grand Canyon dispatch centerís monitors. Dispatch is now housed in the same building as the Parkís Emergency Operations Center.
Dave Van Inwagen, acting director of emergency operations at Grand Canyon, stands in the parkís state of the art fire station facility.
GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Close to 5 million people visit Grand Canyon National Park each year. With that volume of people along with the cars and buses they arrive in and an often less than forgiving landscape, there are bound to be mishaps that need immediate attention from law enforcement and first responders.
Having a fully functional Emergency Operations Center (EOC) starts to look like a really good idea. Thankfully, the park does have just that. But, that hasn't always been the case. Prior to 2011, the park's various emergency response departments, from the fire department to Search and Rescue to law enforcement, operated much more independently.
Ken Phillips, former Chief of Emergency Services at Grand Canyon, was instrumental in moving work on the EOC forward. The facility is now connected to the health clinic and occupies what used to be the park's hospital, built the 60s.
During his time at Grand Canyon, Phillips upgraded emergency equipment; incorporated training focused on emergency responder safety, and incorporated crew resource management concepts borrowed from the aviation industry into emergency response activities.
Grand Canyon Fire Chief and acting Chief of Emergency Services Dave Van Inwagen said there are a variety of reasons Grand Canyon needs an EOC.
"What would we need an EOC for? We would need an EOC for a wildland fire threatening the park," he said. "Any sort of chemical spill. Fire. You have a large storm. Whatever would cause a natural disaster. Snow or rain or wind events. We've had sometimes where Havasupai has flooded and we've done a lot with them. Using our helicopter we've sent resources. It's basically like an incident command center. It's a way to integrate all of our partners together in one place. Like the concessionaires, the county. Tusayan Fire Department. A place that we can integrate all those resources so we're all communicating and have what's called a unified command."
The EOC was completed in three stages. First the park's fire station was relocated. Once a decision was made to build a new fire station, it was determined that attaching it to the health clinic made the most sense. Work commenced in 2004 using entrance fee money allocated for projects within the park.
"It makes sense to have the ambulances coming back to where the clinic is," Van Inwagen said.
The fire station portion of the project was completed in 2006.
Van Inwagen said the goal all along was to also have an EOC housed within the facility as well as the park's Search and Rescue (SAR) division.
The park's dispatch center used to be located in a small room in the basement of park headquarters.
"It was difficult," Van Inwagen said. "The communication wasn't as good. It just wasn't as efficient."
In phase two of the project, begun in June 2009, dispatch was relocated, at which point funding for the project ran out. The incident command offices were set up in the SAR cache facilities at the fire station - something less than ideal.
Enter the Cale Shaffer Memorial Fund. Shaffer, a former Grand Canyon National Park Ranger, died in a plane accident while working at Denali National Park and Preserve. A fund was established in his name to benefit ongoing park service oriented projects.
According to Van Inwagen, Grand Canyon officials requested help from the Memorial Fund and were granted money to finish the EOC including the networking and communication infrastructure. The facility was finished in the beginning of 2011 with structural fire, EMS and dispatch now operating under one central location.
Van Inwagen said the EOC came in handy last year after a sudden dump of wet snow followed by a drop in temperature.
"We had like three to six accidents happening all at once," he said. "We had to send responders all over the park and you need someone commanding that overall incident."
Coordination of snowplows, ambulances, fire engines and law enforcement requires one incident commander. The incident information center is equipped with four dedicated phone lines, robust Internet connections and large interactive touch screens
There have only been a couple of major incidents run from the EOC since its completion but Van Inwagen said he has already seen an improved incident workflow.
"We're still learning but it spins up pretty quick," he said. "Running an incident- it all comes down to communication. When we have an incident, we'll do an after action revue, and a lot of the time - I would say 99 percent of the time - it's like, there is some communication failure. So, whatever we can do to eliminate those communication failures, that's like the big deal for us to run a smooth incident that is effective and safe. That's really what we're looking for."