Public safety building finished at Palmer airport in Unity |

Public safety building finished at Palmer airport in Unity

A newly completed public safety building at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity will allow emergency operations from throughout the region to coordinate plans, hold training classes and stage equipment in the event of a disaster.

Westmoreland County Airport Authority officials announced the building’s completion at their meeting Tuesday.

The 25,000-square-foot Regional Emergency Operations Center will have two bays for Mutual Aid Ambulance Service and consolidate storage of equipment for the Region 13 Task Force, which coordinates local, county, state and federal organizations’ emergency operations within the 13 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the airport authority, said the region has wide-ranging equipment that would be used during an emergency, especially at a large scale.

“We didn’t have an operational center to coordinate our resources,” he said. “Now, we’ve consolidated that to the airport. It also enables us to coordinate our efforts.”

The two-year project cost $2.2 million, funded completely by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Aviation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation.

The project had experienced a delay in construction caused by stalled FEMA funding. Scott Kunselman, engineer for the authority, said once the construction was restarted, everything went smoothly.

“We’re glad it’s done, and we’re happy with the way it turned out,” he said. “We worked our way through it.”

The completed facility will begin operation after an invitation-only ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. Friday.

Monzo said the center’s location at the airport allows for expansion, if necessary.

Using an operations center away from the possible chaos of a disaster, such as flooding or a tornado, allows for more efficient planning and staging.

“We have lots of pavement, so we can put a lot of trucks out here,” Monzo said.

The center, which will be secured 24/7, can act as a backup 911 center to keep communications in operation during an emergency, he said.

Using the air transportation available at the airport, supplies and equipment can be brought quickly without relying on highways if responders need something, Monzo said.

In other business, authority members discussed the announcement last week that Spirit Airlines will begin flights to Las Vegas in April from the Unity airport.

Monzo said major conventions and conferences hosted in Las Vegas could attract Spirit passengers, while soaring temperatures in the West could entice more travelers to visit the Laurel Highlands through the summer.

“It opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for us,” he said.

Passengers might be more willing to catch connecting flights with an overnight layover in Las Vegas, he noted.

Flights departing Las Vegas will leave at 10:15 p.m. and arrive at Arnold Palmer at 5:30 a.m. the following day. The plane will depart for Las Vegas at 7 a.m., beginning April 16.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or [email protected].

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