North Las Vegas command center adapts to coronavirus challenges
Normally, cities run emergency operations centers with essential workers grouped together in one room. But a contagious virus presents a new challenge.
Updated April 1, 2020 - 8:25 am
In the room meant to house all command center workers during an emergency, empty seats separate North Las Vegas officials.
Down the hall, workers are tasked with ordering necessary supplies and keeping track of the cost.
In a normal emergency, all these people would be in one room, but this is not a normal emergency.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way governments operate, and this holds true for North Las Vegas’ emergency operations center, which has adapted to the unique challenges of responding to COVID-19. To stay in touch, officials carry a radio and use Google chat to communicate through text or videoconferencing.
“Obviously … we want to also make sure that we maintain our continuity of operations and if one person gets sick, you know, we don’t want them to take out everyone,” said North Las Vegas Deputy Fire Chief Travis Anderson, who is the emergency manager for the city. To keep things safe, people entering the command center are screened for body temperature.
Post-Sept. 11 operations
After 9/11, the federal government developed a way for every jurisdiction to work together in an emergency, Anderson said. Emergency operations centers are part of that system and keep officials in a centralized location, he said.
North Las Vegas City Manager Ryann Juden said he made the call to split up the command center after seeing how close people were to each other. That system could work during a flood or hurricane, he said, but it does not consider the spread of a contagious virus.
In the Las Vegas Valley, each city has an emergency operations center, which filters requests through a command center at the county, which in turn communicates with the state, Anderson said. If the state can’t fulfill a request, then those officials go to the federal government.
Las Vegas also has broken its emergency response center into multiple rooms and is practicing social distancing, a spokesman said. Henderson said it is operating from a single room but is practicing social distancing. People can also attend meetings via teleconference, a spokeswoman said.
Anderson said the North Las Vegas command center was activated before the valley ever had a positive case of COVID-19.
Because the structure is standardized nationally, different jurisdictions can help each other if one city becomes overburdened, he said. At 3 p.m. every day, emergency operations centers hold a briefing to keep everyone on the same page.
It’s the emergency operations center that is tasked with finding items such as personal protective equipment for first responders, Anderson said. Being tasked with fulfilling needs of officials out in the field is what Anderson considers the most important function of the command center.
On any given day about 20 people are working out of the center, Anderson said.
The command center has a deep bench of sorts, so in the event that someone is sick or out of town, or if operations need to go around the clock, positions can be filled by people who are trained, Anderson said. Most workers are putting in 11- or 12-hour days, he said.
Right now, operations at the command center are not fully ramped up, but in the event of civil unrest or a critical shortage of supplies, a larger group can form and everyone will know their position, city spokesman Patrick Walker said.
North Las Vegas also has nurses in its command center who can test first responders who are on the front lines of confronting the coronavirus.
“The last thing we want is it to infect the entire police department or fire department that are out there trying to take care of our citizens,” Anderson said.
Contact Blake Apgar at email@example.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.