$6-million emergency center dedicated

The facility, named for a sheriff's spokesman who died in '06, has been open for a few weeks.

Published February 9, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - In the restaurant business, they call it a soft opening. In public service, it's called a dedication.

Hernando County's new Emergency Operation Center has been up and running for a few weeks, but its official dedication on Wednesday morning brought out a crowd of nearly 200 people.

County officials, law enforcement representatives, and county residents all turned out for an hourlong ceremony on the Sheriff's Office lawn to marvel at the new building and to honor the man it is named for - Frank Bierwiler, a founder of a county charity and a former sheriff's spokesman, who died of cancer last year.

His family sat in the front row as the guests of honor and his widow, Maureen, spoke about her husband's commitment to helping the community, despite his debilitating multiple sclerosis.

Many of the day's speeches touched on the disastrous storms that swept through Lake and Sumter counties last week - disasters that have focused everyone's attention on the importance of emergency management.

"This is very timely," said County Commissioner David Russell. "I hope we never have to use it in its official capacity."

The $6-million building, designed to withstand a direct hit from a Category 4 storm, will provide a central gathering point for county officials during a disaster.

But even when the weather is balmy, as it was Wednesday, the building is in use.

The Sheriff's Office has moved its 911 dispatch center into the new building along with some offices. The Emergency Management Department has moved in as well.

The public was given a tour of the building with its spacious gray rooms, its dark carpeting and its myriad computer monitors.

Tour guides pointed out the showers in each bathroom, the reinforced windows, and even the break room, which is decorated in the style of a 1950s-era diner.

Sheila Gunther, a retired dispatcher who worked for the Sheriff's Office for 10 years, came back just to see the new building.

"Oh my gosh," she said. "It's so big. Compared to where we were in, it's heaven."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or 352 754-6114.