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August 13th, 2020

courthouse outsideA portion of the Seward County Courthouse that has sat vacant for a few years will now be home to the county’s permanent emergency operations center. Courtesy photoROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times


The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on the need for local emergency operation centers in communities.

Monday, June 15, after using several temporary EOCs to handle disasters over the years, a portion of the Seward County Courthouse became a permanent location for such a facility.

Commissioners voted unanimously to allow the county’s Emergency Management department to relocate to the Seward County Courthouse and set up an office and EOC in a vacant space that is move in ready.

Administrator April Warden said prior to that move, EM Director Greg Standard had been brought into the Administration Building following a reorganization of the county’s fire department. This put Standard solely in charge of Emergency Management, but left the county without a designated EOC.

“We’ve either set up at the Activity Center, here in the commission chambers,” Warden said. “We’ve used the executive session room. We’ve used Planning and Zoning’s conference room. We’ve used a meeting room downstairs, just basically anywhere where we could set up.”

Warden explained the difficulty the county has had without a permanent EOC.

“When Greg has to pick up and set up an operations center somewhere, he is required to bring boxes and information with him and files,” she said. “Oftentimes, we find ourselves running back and forth to have whatever we need, and we’ve made due.”

Warden said the space approved for the new EOC was at one time home to the Juvenile Corrections and Prevention (JCAPS) office.

“Prior to that, it was administration before we got the Administration Building,” she said. 

Since JCAPS moved to a location in The Plaza in north Liberal about three years ago, Warden said the courthouse space has sat empty, making it ideal for an EOC.

“If the commission would allow us to, we would like to relocate Emergency Management from the Administration Building to the courthouse, where we can set up and have an effective emergency operations center,” she said. “His office is storage for the PPE that we have now from the COVID pandemic, which we are still distributing as people need it.”

Warden emphasized the space is move in ready for Emergency Management.

“There’s nothing that needs to be done to prepare that space,” she said. “IT went and looked at it with me last week. The lines are already there from having previous offices in there. The only thing that really needs to be done is for us to do some cleaning, vacuuming, dusting. We also have help here right now with the National Guard willing to help us move some of the stuff we had at the new health department building to this location.”

With numbers of coronavirus cases leveling out after a sharp rise in April and May, Warden said this has left many community members thinking the pandemic is over.

“However, now is the time we have to get all the paperwork,” she said.

The decision to move the EOC into the courthouse came prior to a busy weekend in Liberal that saw the Yellow Brick Road Car Show in town, along with the opening of Adventure Bay Water Park, baseball for the Liberal Bee Jays and the local farmers market.

Warden said this likely provided a true test for the reopening process.

“We have a lot of stuff that’s going to be opened up this weekend, and I think we’ll see how we fair through that two days,” she said at the June 15 commission meeting.

Warden said despite cases coming down, more work still remains before the pandemic is over.

“We still have a lot of paperwork, data entry, etc.,” she said. “There’s still contact investigations going on. Legislation has changed.”

Warden said having a facility that is move in ready can significantly help with local emergencies.

“It just seems like a solution and one where we have the experience where there’s not any additional cost to have him move into that space and for us to have an EOC,” she said.

Commissioner Ada Linenbroker too said little would need to be done to make the courthouse space ready for the EOC.

“We’re not going to have to come up with any furniture, file cabinets, anything,” she said. “There’s plenty already over there, and the nice thing is we don’t have any expense to move him over there because it’s an empty space, and all the phone lines, the Internet and fax machine lines, those are all there. We don’t have to spend any money.”

Commission Chairman Nathan McCaffrey said local emergency plans require an actual designated EOC. During the pandemic, an office building set to become the county’s new health department was used as a temporary EOC, and the chairman said the center needs to be moved out of that building so the health department can be moved into it.

“That building can be used for its intended purpose, and the location here is not too bad since it’s close to the Admin Building and sheriff’s office, the police department,” he said.

Standard said the county’s EOC, permanent or temporary, gets used on a regular basis.

“For large disasters, we’ve been fortunate it’s been every few years or so,” he said. “We’ve had situations where we were occupied with that for a number of days in a row. This time’s been epic. It is a facility that is used on a regular basis, and it is critical we can open that quickly.”

Standard said for the community to have access to have access to the support citizens need in a timely manner is a good thing.

“We get those needs met as quickly as possible,” he said. “We’re always going to do our very best. We can do better if we know what we’re supposed to do.”

Linenbroker, who assisted with the COVID testing facility at the Seward County Fairgrounds, said the EOC would allow workers from more than just the county to help with emergencies as has been the case during the pandemic.

“I think if we move forward and get a permanent EOC set up where we can all still work together and finish this up, next time we have we have another disaster whether it’s a tornado or it’s a big flood, when we have something, we’re all a working group,” she said. “We’re all on a committee together. We’re all going to know right where to go and move forward to work on the next disaster we face.”

McCaffrey also helped with the testing facility, and he said he now has a better understanding for the need for a permanent EOC.

“I probably would not have had the appreciation for the need for a permanent location like I do now, and I certainly understand the need for a permanent EOC now,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Rice said he believes some money would still be needed despite the lack of work to get the courthouse space ready, and he inquired where that money would come from to pay for those expenses.

Warden said Standard has an emergency management budget, and Seward County Health Department Administrator Martha Brown has an emergency preparedness grant to help with those expenses. 

Earlier in the meeting, the county received a donation from National Beef, and some of that money was designated for the health department and county emergency response teams.

Warden said, though, she believes little, if any, of that money will be needed.

“I suppose funding can come from there, but honestly, when we went over there the other day, we already have the computers,” she said. “We have the printer, the copier, the fax machine. We have furniture. The phone lines are already there. We tried to go through any expense there would be, and we just didn’t come up with an expense.”

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