New emergency facility connects Champaign County

Underneath a roof of 8 to 12 inches of concrete in the basement of the METCAD building — built as a bomb shelter in 1966 amid the Cold War — Champaign City Council members Mayor Don Gerard and City Manager Steve Carter were briefed on Champaign County’s emergency response program Tuesday evening.

The Champaign government officials toured the new state-of-the-art emergency operations center at 1905 W. Main St., a facility formerly located in the basement of the Champaign City Building.

METCAD director Ralph Caldwell said the transition to the new center started three months ago as a step in the process of integrating the several jurisdictions METCAD covers — including the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the University and smaller towns in Champaign County — into one building.

Carter said the decision to further integrate the multiple jurisdictions was made in part because Hurricane Katrina, when several governmental agencies in New Orleans were unable to cooperate, to disastrous results.

“Our people work together every day, the police folks and fire folks, so when there is a big event, it goes pretty seamlessly,” he said.

The new center comes equipped with several technological innovations, including the ability to draw severe weather patterns on Google Maps to predict where a storm might hit and what precautions need to be taken, plus the ability to see what areas are suffering a power outage, all in real time.

METCAD staff who briefed the government officials said the emergency response system takes an all-hazard approach to relief, as required by state and federal law, and plans for everything from severe weather — the most common hazard — to terrorist attacks.

Staff also explained how METCAD works within Champaign County. Although it is technically part of the city of Champaign because Champaign is its biggest user, METCAD is funded by residents from all over the area. Its expenditures last year totaled $5 million, largely due to technology improvements, while it received only $3.8 million in funding.

The facility’s main purpose, staff said, is to get information to the decision makers.

The Champaign County Public Safety Command Center, an emergency operations center on wheels, was also discussed at the meeting.

The command center is used to bring an emergency response to any emergency if needed, including fires, tornadoes and other natural disasters. The command center was most recently used Sunday during the plane crash near Rantoul that killed three Champaign residents.