County selects Marathon airport as new EOC location

County selects Marathon airport as new EOC location - A close up of a map - Monroe County
The new EOC will house several county emergency services and will act as the hub for the entire county in the event of an emergency. Kevin Wilson said, “Marathon is right in the middle, so this makes sense. We can get to everyone from here.” MONROE COUNTY/Contributed

At the November BOCC meeting, the county commissioners selected the southwest corner of the Marathon airport property to build a new Monroe County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The selection allows the building process to move onto Phase II Design.

Kevin Wilson, assistant county administrator, prefaced the presentation by noting, “We’re not building a new EOC; we’re building an EOC because we don’t have one.” Wilson’s subtle reminder of the 2017 hurricane season was not lost on the audience.

Marty Senterfitt, director of Monroe County Emergency Management, noted that a dedicated EOC should be “a place to safely convene to properly run the response to a crisis and train for crisis.”

During Irma, EOC staff had to evacuate to Ocean Reef when conditions became too unsafe to remain at the Marathon Government Center. “While the building sustained only minor damage from the storm, the safety of the EOC staff was paramount,” said Wilson, “and the staff operated well as it relocated back to the Marathon Government Center at dawn following landfall.

“With a purpose-designed EOC,” he said, “the staff will be able to operate continuously from the EOC without the extra resources required for a relocation for the safety of the staff.”

Senterfitt agreed. “Right now, we are just making the best of our temporary area,” he said, noting that the current setup lacks the dedicated space, technology and equipment needed to run a disaster response properly.

County staff evaluated seven locations on airport property before ultimately choosing the southwest corner based on the amount of space needed, the need to avoid protected airspace, the airport’s master plan, and security setback requirements. The new EOC building is estimated to cost $22 million to 23 million. Funding will come 25% from a state legislative appropriation, 35% to 40% from the Florida Department of Transportation, and 35% to 40% from the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

Main Factors for determining an EOC:

  • Accessibility (Ingress/Egress)
  • Location (Airport Property/Master Plan/Grant Plan/FAA Part 77 Protected Airspace)
  • Safety (Stand-off Distance 82’ – Homeland Security)
  • Size
  • Systems Capability (FAA Part 77 Protected Airspace, Communications)
  • Survivability
  • Versatility (Redundant Utilities)

The project management department of the county has contracted a design team and will oversee design and construction. While Wilson noted that it was still too early to tell the exact specs for the EOC, he hoped to have a clearer idea in the coming weeks. Most importantly, the new building will be a cat-5 hurricane-hardened building built to FEMA 361 Safe Room standards. It will house the EOC, Monroe County Emergency Management, Monroe County Fire Administration, and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office 9-1-1 Dispatch.

Having the new EOC located at the Marathon International Airport adds an important tool in the County’s hurricane resiliency. The immediate proximity of the new EOC at the airport maximizes use of the airfield as an “air bridge” if and when Overseas Highway becomes unusable. Aid can come in through the airport and get dispersed through the county as needed. During Irma, this is what happened, with federal aid coming in from Mississippi to the Marathon Airport. Having the EOC right there will help manage and expedite the process in the event of another big storm.

The one thorn in the rosy plan involves the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) building. The DAV currently sits on the selected site, and the DAV’s lease with the county runs out mid-2020. Wilson acknowledged the controversy brewing, but ultimately highlighted the 10-year effort that has gone into the site selection and planning and stressed how no alternative land was available and/or suitable. “Their lease expires next year, and we will be another year in design,” he said. “The timing fits.”

The DAV and Monroe County citizens built the DAV on county land in 1987. Dan Perkins, the current DAV commander, acknowledged how many members are upset by the decision. “I think there’s plenty of room for all of us here,” he said. Perkins added, “It would really upset us to be relocated. There’s so many memories of people in this building.”

Past DAV Commander Johnny Maddox takes a slightly different viewpoint. “We’ve been guests of theirs for 40 years. Monroe County has been a gracious host, but a lease is a lease, and it’s time to move on,” he said. “It’s time for growth.”

Commissioner Michelle Coldiron requested that staff be sure to help the DAV find a new building, and Wilson assured her that the county fully intended to help. The county’s Veterans Affairs Department will work with the organization to develop plans for a future location.

County selects Marathon airport as new EOC location - A black sign with white text - Map
Staff showed a map of all 7 proposed locations at the Marathon Airport. The selected site is the only one with enough ground space and air clearance to house a new EOC. MONROE COUNTY/Contributed