As Montgomery County prepares to provide new emergency shelters for natural disasters countywide, and adds new emergency equipment and supplies, the Montgomery County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is working to prepare for every possible emergency scenario while becoming a regional hub for more rural counties.

A closer look

Rows of desks and computers line a dark room with projection screens and large-scale monitors on three of the four walls at the Office of Homeland Security, which serves as the main command hub for local and state leaders as well as first responders in an emergency.

“[Pushing] a button turns everything on in the room in about 15 seconds,” said Jason Millsaps, executive director of emergency management for the county. “Then it takes about maybe three minutes to get everything up and running if you're by yourself.”

Supporting this main hub are several mobile command centers that can be fully operational and on-site within an hour and half, Millsaps said. County officials approved accepting one new unit for $1.25 million during the Oct. 10 Commissioners Court meeting. It will provide a recovery space for first responders as well as transporting any injured persons. The unit can also connect via satellite with a program known as StarLink, which is also used in other emergency units that serve as mobile command centers.

Why it’s needed

One of the biggest challenges the county faced when it came to natural and global disaster response was gathering resources in the shadow of Harris County, which often received the bulk of supplies first due to the county's size and resources. Rural counties often face issues with getting large numbers of supplies, but Millsaps said Montgomery County has been able to make itself a regional hub to surrounding areas.

"For us having 700,000 people we are very self-reliant," Millsaps said. "You know, there's enough here to run a disaster for about a week before we have to push the button and go, 'I need help.'"

A 17,000-square-foot storage facility holds thousands of supplies that can be deployed to locations across the county during an emergency, but the length of time it takes to transport those resources is often delayed by the emergency in question, he said. As a result, county officials are seeking to build and expand emergency shelters and storage facilities. Funding and construction of the buildings are still being discussed, and no funding has been dedicated at this time.

“It takes 45 minutes to get anywhere in the county from here," Millsaps said. "Add traffic, add the storm stuff; it could be three hours waiting easy."

What’s being done

County officials are looking at constructing additional shelter and storage spaces at each precinct in Montgomery County. Millsaps said the new facilities would allow them to keep a set amount of emergency supplies in each precinct and have surplus at the main storage facility to reduce wait times in emergencies.

“The commissioners' offices are prepared. They've trained their staff through OEM to be prepared to open shelters and how to run a shelter, they just need the supplies to do so. So now we can prestage it out there where if that call comes and the commissioner says, ‘I think I want to open a shelter,’ I can say, ‘Yes, do it,’” Millsaps said.