Freeport prepares for emergencies
The next time Freeport floods — if there is a next time — emergency officials will be better able to coordinate evacuation efforts from their new special operations center.
In an effort spearheaded by Mayor Robert Ravotti, the borough has transformed storage space in the municipal building basement into an emergency command center.
The former bomb shelter with its thick, concrete walls and ceiling seemed like a perfect place to centralize emergency response operations, Ravotti said.
One room, which almost is ready to go, contains four stations with radios for the police, fire department and EMS personnel. The room also is outfitted with a ham radio, high-speed Internet, a television and will have a projector for presentations.
Ravotti said the ham radio is particularly valuable because when all other methods of communication fail, amateur radios always work.
He said all emergency officials will be trained to use the radio.
An adjacent room will be transformed into a conference room.
Ravotti said two steel doors will be installed to reinforce the rooms.
Ravotti hopes the command center will be completed by early fall, when he’ll schedule an open house for residents and emergency responders.
He said a $10,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development will go a long way to completing the transformation.
The bulk of the money will pay for a generator that will keep the municipal building, including the command center and the police department, in operation if power goes out.
State Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, presented the state’s check to Ravotti on Thursday.
Pyle praised the borough for its efforts. He said the center will be especially useful on a regional level given Freeport’s location at the junction of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties.
Ravotti said Freeport often has served as a command center for emergency operations, including the Buckeye oil spill in South Buffalo 15 years ago.
Freeport has regularly been victim of flooding because Buffalo Creek empties into the Allegheny River at the borough. Many homes, as well as the senior citizens high-rise along Riverside Drive, sometimes require evacuation.
“When Bob first brought this to me, Hurricane Ivan had just finished wreaking havoc,” Pyle said. “Freeport was overwhelmed. But they have foresight for the future.”