Joint storm center pitched

Hillsborough and Tampa emergency operations should be combined in a new building, officials say.

Published October 3, 2006

TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners plan to hire a consultant to explore building a bigger emergency operations center, and one official wants Tampa to share the new space.

"Half the battle is just having everybody together so we can talk directly to them," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe. "We need to be able to instantly communicate."

He plans to discuss the idea at Wednesday's commission meeting.

Larry Gispert, Hillsborough's emergency management director, said the county center at 2711 E Hanna Ave., opened in 1993, was built to house 75 representatives from agencies that respond to emergencies. Almost twice that number filled the building in 2004, when the center went to full activation for Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne.

Gispert said the air conditioning system couldn't handle it, and they had to buy industrial fans. Officials slept on the floor and in chairs.

"It would just be a whole lot easier and more efficient if we were in a larger building with both the city and county co-located," Gispert said.

Sharpe said, "This is an example of where the city and county can work together."

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio agrees. "Our community would be better served to have one Emergency Operations Center ... so that our communications and coordination during a storm event or any other emergency will be seamless," she said.

The city of Tampa now transforms a conference room and meeting space in its 911 dispatch center, next door to the county's center on Hanna, when it has to activate.