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February 27, 2014

Operations center plans for disaster response

STILLWATER, Okla. — Located underground beneath the city’s police department, the Stillwater Emergency Operations Center stands ready in the event of a disaster.

People are on hand at the center to form a plan for a threat — whatever it may be.

Some threats may be natural disasters, in which case the police and fire chief, city manager, parks and recreation and outside agencies like Oklahoma State University and the Red Cross are trained to work together.

Some take calls, while maps pinpoint the course of the disaster that has happened.

At the hub of the operation is Kirk Mittelstet, Stillwater Emergency Management Agency director.

“We hope we never see it fully staffed and working,” Mittelstet said.

That would mean a disaster on a mass scale. As many as four to five people may work at the center during wildfires or ice storms. The room holds up to 24 cubicles for first responders from Cushing, Perkins, Glencoe and Yale.

On a regular basis, he works with Emergency Management Technician Rob Hill and Joe Minnick, radio communications technician.

Technology changed the way people communicate in the emergency management world, increasingly with the use of social media.

“Used to, people relied on traditional media — radio, T.V. and newspaper,” he said.

During a storm, a volunteer is designated to update Twitter and Facebook.

Mittelstet said during the last major storm, the SEMA Twitter account got 200 more followers. The agency’s Facebook page has nearly 2,000 followers.

“Technology allows us to work from just about anywhere, or as long as there is connectivity, everything has limits,” Hill said. “We also have the ability to remote activate early warning systems, but we prefer to use technology as a last resort when it comes to life safety.”

The crew increasingly relies on OK-First as a part of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey and Oklahoma Mesonet.

Since spring 2012, 500 public safety officials have been trained statewide, according to its website.

Mittelstet said radar technology is constantly improving, with the ability to provide web EOC’s and GPS coordinates.

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