Semmes Alabama First Responders Safe Room

You might think of safe rooms as a strong and secure place to go to during home invasions or bad weather, but they can also be a key element in a city’s plan to insure city emergency services during extreme weather conditions such as tornados and hurricanes.

The story of the City Of Semmes’ first responders safe room starts in 2015, (Judy Hale’s Administration)  when city officials met at Mobile County Emergency Management Agency to express the city’s interest in obtaining a FEMA grant for building an emergency responder safe room. The grant application was submitted on October 26, 2015 and approved on August 29, 2016.

According to FEMA, “a safe room is a hardened structure that meets specific design and safety criteria and provides ‘near-absolute protection’ in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.”

During the time period between applying for the grant and awarding of the grant, there was a city-wide election, (August 23 2016) that resulted in a new administration for the city. The new city council made the decision to move the project from the previously designated location on Lott Road to a more accessible location behind the Semmes Public Safety Training Complex adjacent to the Semmes Pubic Works building. This decision was a big gamble since it would require modification of the original grant application and a strong possibility that changes to the request may result in negative consequences.

Since the decision was made to request the change, it was decided also, with input from local experts, to request that the building be increased from 1230 square feet to 2000 square feet. Fire Chief Kevin Brooks was tasked by the city council with the additional responsibility of acting Emergency Management Director for the city and it became his responsibility to follow-through and oversee the project.

A Change of Scope (SOW, statement of work) was applied for through FEMA, and although the grant monies had been awarded, a review much like that with the original application had to take place. This included re-working the engineering/design documents, site reviews, historical preservation reviews, etc. and approval for the changes was received via a letter from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency on February 8, 2019.

The facility will be a total of 2000 SF, provide shelter for up to 84 first responders and Public Safety Personnel while withstanding wind speeds to 200 mph. The facility offers space not only the City’s Fire Department and Public Works Department Personnel but critical city hall personnel to ensure the continuity of local government. The structure will also provide space for our Community Resource Officers, contracted Mobile County Sheriff’s Office personnel, local Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers and local utilities personnel.

Constructed in accordance with FEMA criteria, FEMA P-361, the design is to insure near-absolute protection for emergency preparation and operations. Our new first responder safe room, when completed, will serve as, a safe location for local authorities with Chief Kevin Brooks serving as the on-scene coordinator and incident commander. The City Of Semmes established a clear chain of command by appointing Chief Brooks as the responsible individual, with appropriate training or certifications, to lead and coordinate the city’s emergency plan. He, along with the mayor, have the responsibility for making life saving decisions during an emergency. Together, they will be responsible for assessing the situation to determine whether an emergency exists, activating emergency procedures, overseeing emergency procedures as well as notifying and coordinating with outside emergency services.

Semmes needed this safe room. Our location on the gulf coast puts us at some risk from tornadoes and hurricanes. The city’s decision to build the first responder safe room was based on a collection of factors including a thorough risk assessment that considered the type of hazard, probability of event, occurrence and severity of event, and the vulnerability of existing facilities and the population at risk. The bottom line in this case is to save the lives of those responsible for saving our lives and property.

In addition to those already mentioned, we wish to acknowledge the following organizations for their persistance and determination during this four year journey:

  • FEMA for their guidance on conducting risk assessments and providing a decision-making process that can helped our community officials determine the criteria for the safe room.
  • Thompson Engineering/Watermark Design which spearheaded all engineering and design aspects of the project.
  • Lewis Construction which was awarded the bid for construction of the facility.
  • The Alabama Emergency Management Agency (Grantee/Project Delivery Manager) will oversee the Semmes (Sub-Grantee) First Responder Safe Room Project (#4176-0029) through construction and final inspection completion.

The City Of Semmes developed a plan ahead of time and now we will witness the beginning of the final phase. Many disasters are no-notice events, meaning that there is no warning. These types of events do not allow time for people to gather even basic necessities. However, once completed, our center will be equipped, furnished and manned. It will provide a location for emergency personnel to assemble in one area fully prepared when threatened by any type of incident including worst-case scenarios.

Your attendance is requested for the ground breaking for the start of construction tomorrow, Monday, August 19, 2019 at 9:00 am.

Anticipated completion date is April 2020.

Have a great day,

Terry Platt

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