Several families took the time to learn more about their county emergency services by touring the Liberty County EMA office and 911 call center during an open house Wednesday afternoon.
Liberty County is observing National County Government Month by holding open houses at various county facilities each Wednesday through the end of April.
The theme for the month-long observance is “Ready and Resilient Counties: Prepare. Respond. Thrive.” Therefore, the county is focusing its activities on disaster preparedness.
EMA and 9-1-1 staff was on hand to greet the public and tell them about the services they provide.
The solidly constructed building that houses EMA and 911 used to be the jail, county officials said. The renovation was made possible with SPLOST funds.
On the EMA side, there are offices, classrooms for training, a conference room, a communications area
with ham radios, a computer-server room and the Citizens Emergency Response Team room, where emergency equipment and supplies, such as radios and first-aid kits, are stored.
“We’re 86 feet above sea level,” EMA Director Mike Hodges said.
He said the building transitions into the Emergency Operations Center when a hurricane approaches.
Ham radios are used, in addition to other communications equipment, because sometimes these amateur radios are the only radios working in outlying areas when a major storm hits, Hodges explained.
Public Safety Communications Director Thomas Wahl said his eight dispatchers constantly are training to certify and recertify in communication procedures and on new software programs when they’re not busy taking calls.
Wahl said 911 computers are in use 24/7.
“In a one-year period, these computers get four years’ worth of work,” he said. “We literally wear the letters off the key boards.”
Wahl said 911 continually is seeking grants to fund upgrades to computer software and hardware. County commissioners currently are considering earmarking SPLOST dollars to update the 911 communications system, should voters approve the SPLOST referendum in November.
Wahl said the proposed upgrade would better integrate 911’s communication system with those used by law-enforcement agencies so information can be more easily shared.
The next open houses will be held from 3-4:30 p.m. April 16, at Gum Branch Fire Station; from 10 a.m.-noon April 23 at Liberty Regional Medical Center; and 3-4:30 p.m. April 30 at the Liberty County Community Complex in Midway.
Commissioners also plan to visit local schools to inform students about county services, and the county will host a booth at the Earth Day celebration Tuesday, April 22, at the YMCA soccer fields.
In addition, there will be various county displays at Public Safety Day on April 23.