Update on Pocahontas 911 and Emergency Management Office

This week we did a two-part interview with Mike O’Brien, the Director of the Pocahontas County’s 911 Center and Emergency Management. In this first part, O’Brien talks about some of the projects being worked on there.

Mike, what’s going on at the 911 Center these days?

“Well. We have been pretty busy,” O’Brien said. “From a 911 standpoint, we are looking to add two additional tower locations in the county to better our 911 communications, and replace an existing tower site up here in Thomastown. That tower has been in place for quite a bit of time and it’s getting a little dated for what we want to do and the amount of equipment we want to hang on it. And so we are hoping to get that replaced this year. We are looking to propose a tower at Droop Mountain. Radio technology has advanced to a point where we can do a thing called ‘simulcast,’ which means we can broadcast off of multiple sites at the exact same time, and they will be in ‘geo-sync,’ so it doesn’t matter where you are at. If you are in the middle, instead of one coming up a couple of milliseconds before the other one comes up and causes an echo, this simulcast system will broadcast all at the same time. So, it will allow us to better our coverage.”

“And, of course, one of our big struggles with communications is we are a huge county, we are 70% National Forest and there is no infrastructure in place on all the high peals and high mountains, there is no power, there is no access. It is mostly controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, and the Observatory of course, we have to take them into consideration whenever we work on projects, and they have been great to work with. So, we are looking to add an additional tower down on Droop, and we are also looking to add a tower up in Bartow, to better the northern end of the county.”

“And, those projects are full steam ahead. We’ve been at this for about a year. There’s a lot that goes into planning and development – land owner agreements and things of that nature- to bring that together, but I feel that this year we are going to make a lot of progress. Hopefully, this time next year we’ve got two additional sites in and an existing site renovated into a more feasible site.”

“As far as the 911 Mapping and Addressing, we got some work going on that. Brandon and his team is working real hard to get the road signs installed in place. Hopefully this year we get that project wrapped up. That’s been quite an adventure. Almost 500 road signs have went into place here in the county. for emergency responders, that will help them find these residences and speed up response times. With that, we also have the 911 Mapping and Addressing Ordinance submitted to the County Commission for review. We are looking to modify that and clean it up. The big thing is the road signage in that ordinance, so we got some legs to stand on to show that those road signs are required to be in place for emergency responders.”

Mike, what’s happening on the Emergency Management side of your job?

“On the Emergency Management side we have been working real hard with Region 4 to have this Mitigation Review. That comes up about once every four to five years. We set out some goals and look at some hazards and how can we mitigate them and prepare for future events.”

“It seems one of the focal points for the emergency Management side that I have been dealing with since I’ve been here is the old Board (of Education) Office down on 5th Avenue, looking for resources to get that taken down. That’s been a big nuisance to us, it really needs to be be taken down. It restricts access to the nursing home on Fifth Avenue. And that’s really ramping back up again. We’re working with Region 4. We are looking for some grant funding, and hopefully maybe this time get that building taken down once and for all and get that over with.”

I thought FEMA was going to take it down for us.

“They were, it started off with a program called the ‘Slum and Blight Program’ after the June 16th Flood. And any structure that was damaged as a result of flooding was eligible for this program. We applied for that, and I think because it is a commercial building verses a residential building, that throwed it off a bit, and of course you know, that building probably does have some asbestos in it, so that probably affected it a little bit. And then it went into another program, and that fizzled around and fell through and now Region 4 is helping us with some hazardous mitigation money, because it directly impacts our ability to access the nursing home in the event of a flooding event. And the BOE has plans for that lot. It is my understanding they want to use that area to load and unload school busses, which would be safer for the children so they wouldn’t be loading and unloading in the street. So, it will be a win-win for everybody if we can pull this off. We’re very optimistic that we should be a front-runner candidate. Hazardous mitigation funds were meant for projects like this. I feel really good that we have a good chance of getting that.”

Keep listening to Allegheny Mountain Radio for part 2 of this interview in which O’Brien talks to us about what’s going on with the proposed new 911 Center and gives us some tips about handling this winter weather.

Story By

Tim Walker

Tim is the WVMR News Reporter. Tim is a native of Maryland who started coming to Pocahontas County in the 1970’s as a caver. He bought land on Droop Mountain off Jacox Road in 1976 and built a small house there in the early 80’s. While still working in Maryland, Tim spent much time at his place which is located on the Friars Hole Cave Preserve. Retiring in 2011 as a Lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland, Tim finally took the plunge and moved from Maryland to his real home on Droop Mountain. He began working as the Pocahontas County Reporter for Allegheny Mountain Radio in January of 2015.

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