Mesquite Fire Chief Kash Christopher is only halfway through his second year in the position but already he’s making changes that will benefit the City for years to come.
The Mesquite Local News took an inside look at his most recent project, the new and very improved Emergency Operations Center, or EOC. “If there is a disaster requiring all hands on deck, this is the place they will be,” Christopher said.
The old EOC was located in the break room at Fire Station 1, next to City Hall. It was unorganized and not very efficient.
In June 2015, Chief Christopher, Dirk Marshall, Information Technology Director and his department, Deputy Fire Chief Rick Resnick, Fire Fighter Spencer Lewis, and others within the department, began creating what is now the official Mesquite EOC with the approval of City Manager Andy Barton and Mayor Al Litman.
Located behind Council Chambers the EOC brings new life to the vacant area. “The City Council used to have their offices back here,” Christopher stated. “Now we have a chance to use it again.”
“This city is going to grow. We have to be proactive. We have to be ready for whatever happens so we’re not scrambling at the last minute,” said Christopher. “This is just the beginning for where we are headed in the Emergency Management Department. Hopefully by June 2016 we’re going to have a couple of more exercises and get everybody on board. If something happens, the city will be better equipped to get back to normal and get businesses opened as soon as possible. That’s the goal.
“However long that takes, the EOC will be open. This is a community effort. We’re looking at a regional response team. There are certain things we can’t handle in this department due to a lack of manpower. Hazmat, swift water rescue, and a regional response team are all things we are working on getting here.”
The main room itself looks like something you would expect from areas that are prone to natural disasters. Dry erase boards cover the walls, each with their own purpose during any disaster. With the Virgin Valley’s susceptibility to flash flooding, the EOC will only improve the ways in which emergency personnel, city and county staff and the community can cooperate and communicate together in the most adequate way.
“Let me give you an example,” said Christopher. “In January 2005 a train went through Graniteville, SC without slowing down. A switch operator didn’t switch the tracks as he was supposed to. The train derailed and the Emergency Response Team didn’t respond fast enough. Thirteen people died.
“Even though people think we are little ol’ Mesquite, we are just as active 24/7 with Interstate 15 running through the middle of town,” he said.
“We avoided disaster last year with the Primex explosion. A blown fuse caught the dust and burned the insulation at least 25 feet up the wall. It could have been much worse.
“Accidents can happen. With Exit 118 going in this city is going to get bigger. The area near Station 3 is an industrial area that’s going to expand,” the Chief explained.
If such a situation arises, as it likely will, the EOC will serve as the hub or main heart for the city. Five departments will work with each other in the EOC. The Public Works Director, currently Bill Tanner, or a designee will be in charge. A Finance Department representative will monitor spending. A logistics team and operations team will work with a planning team and map out scenarios to determine what can be done, when and how. Think of a giant spider web – everything is connected and every piece relies on the other to get the job done right.
“When you have an incident, a crew is mitigating the field. Other people will be here in the control center,” he said.
Many might think the room and all its gadgets must have cost a pretty penny. But that’s not the case. Using leftover monies in his budget as well as Mesquite Police Department hand-downs, Christopher set up the EOC at nearly zero cost. “We brought over MPD’s laptops after they got their new systems. We utilized others purchased a few years ago through grant funding,” he added. “Spencer spearheaded a lot of the things in here too.”
The Chief got a “killer deal” on three televisions purchased at wholesale cost. Each one serves their own purpose. One will be tuned to local news stations, another will monitor river water levels around Mesquite and a third one will supply information on all emergency incidents throughout Clark County.
The highest priced item in the room was the wiring setup once all of the equipment was installed. Each desk has a laptop and phone hooked into the City’s phone system. Chief Christopher reiterated that “I did not go over my budget at all,” something appreciated considering the City’s tight fiscal budget.
The trigger to all of this, besides preparing the city for its undeniable future growth, was pulled while the Chief was pursuing his Masters Degree which he received three weeks ago.
“I talked to professors in Washington D.C. who gave me ideas on what to do and what not to do when I took the perfect class “How to set up an EOC,” he said. He used the information to establish the local EOC.
So far, so good.
A major benefit of the new EOC is that it’s functional all of the time. In contrast, the Clark County EOC based in Las Vegas is not set up or staffed 24/7. Instead it’s set up as need in a City building after a devastating event has occurred.
“If something were to happen to their EOC or to the City of Las Vegas, it’s highly probable they would utilize ours. It’s nice that we have the means to do that,” the Chief said.
Christopher said he’s received positive feedback from Clark County and others. “The State Department of Emergency Management toured this facility and liked what they saw,” Lewis said. “They suggested some changes but they love this room.”
After a few more exercises and more training Christopher feels that Mesquite will be ready for whatever weather or other disaster might strike.
But he’s not stopping there. Chief Christopher said he intends to pursue his Doctoral Degree even though many feel he doesn’t need it.
“If I’m going to wear two hats, I’d better know both sides. I know the firefighter part and I’m learning more on the emergency services side. It’s ever-changing,” he said. “I want the people in Mesquite to know they are in good hands. We are better prepared to handle disasters now than we were last year.”
Christopher is considering a Doctoral program at Oklahoma State University that’s connected to FEMA. While his Masters degree only took him 2 ½ years, his next venture could take him between three to five years, putting him close to retirement age. “Even though I really don’t need it because I’m already a Chief, it will benefit everyone for me to stay current. I don’t plan on retiring for a while. Running two departments keeps me busy.”