February 5th, 2011 will be the three year anniversary of the EF4 tornado that touched down in the rural countryside of Middle Tennessee in 2008, and while the memories of the storm remain powerful, the path the twister carved is almost invisible, and Macon County is on the road to a complete recovery with a new approach to preparing for a disaster in advance.During a couple of separate interviews recently with Mrs. Nancy White, North Central Telephone Cooperative President/CEO, and Lafayette Fire Chief Keith Scruggs, I got a detailed explanation of two projects that are scheduled to be in full operation by the spring or summer of this year, that will put us one step ahead in the battle against a natural disaster.
“North Central broke ground this week on a state of the art data center, located at 300 West Locust Street, just off the Public Square, which will be constructed to resist F-5 tornado force winds,” Nancy White said as we sat talking in her office. “As part of the deployment of the new fiber to the premises and 21st century network, NCTC’s fiber optic project was one of the first awarded last year under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Acts Broadband Stimulus Program.”
“The new facility, called the CO Annex, will be constructed to resist winds up to 318 mph, and should another catastrophic event hit our town head on,” White continued, “the unique features of this building will be able to protect both the vital telephone and internet services that provide life saving Communication during a disaster and the other data services that will be hosted in the Annex.”
The Annex will not only house the fiber cable from each home in town, but also will house the major electronics, computers, servers and switches needed to connect the high speed broadband services to the outside world. The data center will be located across the street from the current central office and will face both Locust Street and College Street in Lafayette. The current building will continue to house the employees who run and support the network.
The entire building is constructed of PRECAST reinforced concrete roof & walls, with each of these weighing roughly 40,00 pounds. This structure is required to resist the “lift pressure” of the type generated by tornadoes, and it has its own internal backup power systems to maintain the network for voice, data operations and environmental systems even if a major disaster damages power and natural gas supplies to the area.
“The data center will also allow us to provide secure hosting for hardware and software of local businesses’ computer systems,” noted White. “One example of what that means is…if you were to store the Macon County Chronicles’ information on a server in our new facility and something happened to the computer in your office, all your information would be safe to access from our facility! We believe data hosting will be an important area for revenue growth to NCTC in the future.”
“We expect the construction to be completed early this summer and we at NCTC are proud to bring another innovation to this area that will provide infrastructure for the future.”
After I sat down with Chief Keith Scruggs the next day, he recalled without hesitation when Middle Tennessee suffered one of the worst tornado outbreaks in its history, and the desperate need for a permanent Emergency Operation Center (EOC) here in Macon County.
“On February 5th, 2008, we had participated in a conference call with the National Weather Service (NWS) as we anticipated severe storms and tornadoes that evening and night,” Chief Scruggs said as he leaned back in his chair. “So with that said, we were monitoring the situation and considering it was election night a lot of people were watching television. My own awareness was heightened and I stayed in constant contact with the Lafayette Fire Department and Dispatch, and by this time television had gone to straight weather.”
“I actually stood outside of my home and watched the tornado pass through Macon County and it came within 500 yards west of my house,” the Chief continued. “I notified the Lafayette Police Department that there was a funnel cloud on the ground and by that time it was heading toward Galen. It became hectic when 911 fire calls began coming in after people noticed the Columbia Gulf blaze to the south and when I got to Brattontown in was utter chaos. We immediately set up a Field Command Center in the vicinity of the intersection and started searching houses and rubble.”
“We then set up a 2nd Command Center in the Akersville area and continued the initial search until 2 p.m., when we were told to retreat due to another round of storms heading directly for us once again. That’s when I realized how broad this disaster was and we needed to open an Emergency Operation Center, which would have normally been the Lafayette Fire Department, but the generator was down and we didn’t have any back up power.”
“We called an emergency meeting at the Lafayette Police Department and we continued to asset the damage and it was deemed we needed to set up a EOC that night, and we choose the EMS building due to the fact their back up power was in operation and they had a large room we could use. By 3:00 a.m. the facility was open and fully staffed with around 50 people, not only from Macon County but the State of Tennessee and the Federal government as well. The system that was put into effect early that morning by establishing an EOC, served as a point of contact for all emergency agencies operating in Macon County as well as coordinating all search & rescue, and humanitarian needs. The EOC stayed in full operation mode for a period of about six weeks.”
“But that night, we realized we were lacking in a permanent EOC that would normally be fully stocked and set up in the event of a full blown disaster but that dream has recently been finalized with the plans for a new facility located at 898 Highway 52 By Pass East. The new EOC will have a state of the art communication equipment and audio visual equipment that will be designed specifically to handle emergencies in Macon and surrounding areas. It is long overdue and it took that tornado to shake the powers that be into realizing this was a much-needed facility for our county here in Middle Tennessee. It will be located next to the Justice Center on a parcel of land Macon County already owns, and it will be a 5,000-square-foot structure with office areas for Macon County 911 communications and Macon County EMS. It will be a fully stocked, fully prepared operations room to meet the needs of any future traumatic event in our county.”
“We are hoping to break ground by this spring with the possibility of having it fully operational by late summer. This is being funded by the Disaster Recovery Act, which is federal money, and will not have to be paid back. As of right now Macon County and the City of Lafayette has received 1.5 million in Disaster Recovery Act money and has applied for an additional 3 million provided under this grant act. All this money will be used to bolster the city and county’s ability to react, control and contain any future catastrophic events.