If a hurricane swept through Fairfax County tomorrow or a terrorist attack was imminent, state and county representatives would have to respond from several locations scattered throughout the area.
There's currently no central command facility where they could join together. But all that's about to change.
FAIRFAX COUNTY is constructing a public safety, emergency operations and transportation center on some 200 acres on West Ox Road, across from Costco Plaza in Fairfax. And last Friday, Sept. 28, in conjunction with National Preparedness Month, it offered a first look inside the sleek, new, state-of-the-art facility.
"It's going to enhance our capabilities and allow for coordination in a myriad of circumstances," said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly. "And it will significantly increase citizens' security here and throughout Northern Virginia."
The multi-faceted, public-use campus is Fairfax County's baby, but it also involves entities including VDOT and the state police. And county and state personnel designed the complex's master plan together.
"We made arrangements for [the designers] to meet with people in Texas to see theirs," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). "Seeing what they learned after they built it — and the pitfalls they ran into — was helpful to us."
Groundbreaking was in late November 2005; price tag for the entire West Ox Complex is some $250 million. It's a partnership between the county, state and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Comprising the complex will be a Public Safety and Transportation Operations Center (PSTOC), Bus Operations Center, Police Forensics Facility, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) facilities and Virginia State Police Division 7 Headquarters.
THE NEW POLICE forensics lab will have better and enhanced technology and lots more space. And the police department's 911 call center will no longer be squished into a tiny room in the Woodburn facility.
"Some 1.3 million calls a year come into the 911 call center," said Hossein Malayeri, project manager with the county's Building Design Branch. So, added Connolly, "Building in extra capacity is also critical to what we're doing [here]."
The designers also listened to 911 staff to learn what they wanted in their area. So, said Malayeri, "It'll have natural light, high ceilings for morale, plus a courtyard [outside for fresh air and relaxation]. "It's a high-stress job," said Connolly.
The project is being built in phases, through 2025, with capability for future expansion. Phase one is the 114,000-square-foot PSTOC and the 33,000-square-foot Forensics Facility, which is attached to PSTOC.
This summer, workmen with Manhattan Construction Co. did mechanical and electrical work, erected walls and partitions, installed glass and fully enclosed the PSTOC and forensics buildings. Completion is anticipated in early summer 2008.
"We started planning this campus in May 2003, and it's now about 60-percent complete," said Malayeri. "It'll go from concept to occupying the space, in five years — which is outstanding for this type of facility." And for a project geared for multiple users and missions, it's had less than 1 percent change orders.
"This facility shows the seriousness with which Fairfax County takes emergency planning and preparedness," said Connolly. "And it'll allow for cost-efficient provision of services by county, state and regional government, plus better ability to respond to traffic incidents."
Noting how hard this county was hit by the 9/11, sniper and May 2006 police tragedies — not to mention various tornadoes — Connolly said, "We want to make sure we [can] protect the citizens." And PSTOC fills the bill.
"It'll look like an office building from the outside," said Malayeri. "But inside, it'll be so much more. There are thousands and thousands of miles of conduit. And although it's the largest county project ever, because of the extensive planning and the work we did in advance, it's right on schedule and on budget."
PSTOC's cost is $122.5 million — including $102.5 million for the county functions and $20 million for the State Police and VDOT portions. The county police department's Forensics Facility will cost $13 million to construct. So the total, phase-one price tag is $135.5 million.
CONTAINED WITHIN PSTOC will be the county's Department of Public Safety Communications (911 call center), Office of Emergency Management and Emergency Operations Center. Also there will be the State Police Division 7 call-takers and dispatchers, plus VDOT's Smart Traffic Center comprised of its Traffic Management and Signal systems.
So PSTOC will unify state and county representatives in one place — the Emergency Operations Center — in the event of a crisis, natural disaster or other emergency. If any of those things happen, said Malayeri, "[Representatives from] over 56 private or public organizations, such as hospitals and schools, will be in this area."
The county will use some 93,000 square feet of PSTOC, and State Police and VDOT will occupy about 21,000 square feet. About 300 people will work there initially, increasing to 400 in 2025.
"During Hurricane Isabel, we had to bring in computers to Woodburn and make do," said Connolly. "Having this kind of facility will enable us to manage such situations much better."
And it'll be a secure structure — for the security of both the employees and systems. It will safeguard access to the crucial functions the county will rely on in the event of a disaster, when rapid and seamless communication is critical.
"Certainly, having all the minds under one roof will be an asset in large-scale, incident mitigation — and even in day-to-day operations," said county Fire Chief Ronald Mastin. "We'll be able to effectively communicate, face-to-face."
Likewise, Lt. Col. Dave Lubas, with the county Sheriff's Office, said, "We're happy to be part of the public-safety building. And it emphasizes how well the county's three, public-safety agencies work together."
It'll be a nicely landscaped site, too, with more than 900 trees and 2,500 shrubs, plus an attractive frontage on West Ox Road.
The complex will also include a 195,000-square-foot building for VDOT's Northern Virginia District Office, State Police Division 7 Administration, plus a county-run daycare center and cafeteria for West Ox Complex employees. Now in design, this building's construction is to begin in mid-2008 and finish by October 2010.
CURRENTLY, VDOT has no direct link to information on county roads, just interstate highways. It relies on phone calls from police or residents to learn about major accidents. But when it and the other players are all in the same command center, there'll be a better and more efficient information-sharing network.
"It will be great working together," said State Police Sgt. Terry Licklider. "If there's a crash on the interstate — with the thousands of people it affects — we'd contact Fairfax County police to send in extra officers to control the intersections where people are getting off. And we have plans in place if there's a major incident."
Also planned and under construction is a building for county bus administration, maintenance and operations. Now, Fairfax Connector buses have no bus facility to serve central and western Fairfax County.
This one should open in October 2008 with 175 buses initially and 300 buses ultimately. And both Metro and Connector buses will be located here. "We're looking forward to getting more bus routes into Centreville," said McConnell. "We've needed that for 20 years."