Emergency Operations Center serves the state of Oklahoma

Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma Emergency Management Department director, said, “Basically any resource needed to respond to a disaster, help recover from a disaster, can be reached through this office. It's like one-stop shopping.”
by Bryan Painter Modified: January 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: January 13, 2014

California and Texas.

Those are the only two states that have had more federal disaster declarations than Oklahoma since 1953, according to the state Emergency Management Department. Oklahoma has endured 94 federal disasters in that span, including 32 since 2007.

So why is the number 20 important?

Because on the north side of the state Capitol complex, there is 20 feet between the grassy surface above and the lowest point of the bunker below that serves as the state's Emergency Operations Center.

This is the control central for Oklahoma during many major disasters.

For example, if officials of a local community need assistance during a winter storm or after a tornado, they can contact the Emergency Operations Center.

“It's not the Emergency Management Operations Center; this is the entire state of Oklahoma,” said Albert Ashwood, director of the Emergency Management Department. “Basically, any resource needed to respond to a disaster, help recover from a disaster, can be reached through this office. It's like one-stop shopping.”

Cold War origins

The bunker was built in 1963. The Cold War creation was designed to withstand the shock of a 20-megaton blast as close as three miles away.

That's why state officials say the center was mounted on heavy springs to absorb the vibrations and why there are sliding blast doors weighing 18,000 pounds each on either end of the tunnel leading to the bunker.

When some states elected to go above ground with emergency operations in recent years, the Emergency Management Department chose to stay underground and renovate the existing 12,000-square-foot area, Ashwood said.

There are 14 outer-circle and eight inner-circle computer-equipped stations in the bullpen, sitting ready until local, state and national leaders converge to respond to the next disaster.

Department staff members are seated in the inner circle, and depending on the type of disaster, the outer circle includes the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma National Guard, the state Health Department, the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department, the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and/or others agencies.

Having individuals from these agencies elbow-to-elbow during a disaster is “extremely important,” Ashwood said.

“Because what we do is not just look over and say, ‘Guard, do this' or ‘DPS, do that.' We say, ‘Here's the mission: How are we going to meet it?'” Ashwood said. “So it might be something like rescuing stranded motorists in an ice storm or snowstorm.


by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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