It’s a facility that no one ever wants to have to use, but Barton County Communications Director Doug Hubbard told the County Commission Monday morning it’s nice to know it exists.
Hubbard was talking about the South Central Regional 911 Back-up Center located near Yoder. Operated through Hutchinson Community College, it is part of the school’s technical education satellite campus, which is also the site of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.
Barton County is one of 19 counties that are make up the South Central Regional Homeland Security Council which shares the emergency center. It came up Monday when Hubbard said one of his dispatchers spent a long night at the center helping Rice County after the April 19 tornado knocked out emergency communications there.
“I learned a lot that night,” Hubbard said. “I have a lot better handled on what would happen if, for some reason, we were down.”
The center has six work stations and is managed through the Reno County Communications Department. In the event of a problem, that office will man the center until volunteers are found. That is what happened April 19 for Rice County.
Should use of the center become necessary, Hubbard said they have to call the phone companies and have the trunk phone lines re-routed to Yoder. He said 911 calls are actually long-distance calls that are handled as local calls for all callers.
Although Hubbard has been assured the Barton County Communications Center in the Great Bend AT&T building is tornado proof, a twister could rip away the 15 or 16 antennas. Barton County also has mobile radio capability that could be used in a disaster.
The regional center was funded by a grant issued in 2006 and it opened in April of 2007, shortly after the Greensburg tornado. However, Kiowa County utilized the new center while its system was down after the storm.
It is also available to other counties outside of the region.
On a related note, Hubbard said Kansas is one of 28 states developing a Telecommunicators Emergency Response Task Force that would provide further cooperation. There are 14 states with TERT already.
“You plan ahead and we appreciate it,” commission Chairman Homer Kruckenberg said.
In other business:
• County Administrator Richard Boeckman updated the commissioners on the and Wildlife National Scenic Byway which winds from Cheyenne Bottoms in Barton County to Quivira Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County. It is one of 11 scenic byways in Kansas, and one of two national scenic byways in the state.
He told of the economic development and tourism conference held at the Wetlands Education Center April 28 which was attended by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Secretary Robin Jennison and Gov. Sam Brownback.
Boeckman said Brownback is very interested in environmental tourism, but said the state is bad at promoting itself. The governor has pledged to help with improving telling and selling the story of the byway and other tourism opportunities.
The county administrator is planning a tourism conference for October to address these issues. “We want to make sure the byway doesn’t get stale,” he told the commission. The meeting is still in the planning stages.
• County Engineer Clark Rusco gave an overview of the Cow Creek watershed discovery meeting held April 25 in Hoisington. It was one of three held in the watershed area that week sponsored by the Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas Water Authority. The others were in Lyons and Hutchinson.
They are in the information-gathering phase, he said, and a lot was learned. Issues such as problems with the flood plain map in Hoisington, frequent flooding in Rice County due to debris in Cow Creek to nearly annual flooding in Reno County were discussed.
The Cow Creek area stretches from near Otis east to Hutchinson, and from Ellsworth south to Hoisington, and includes Little Cheyenne Blood and Deception creeks. Great Bend and Ellinwood don’t fall into the watershed, but Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area does.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Risk Mapping, Assessment and Planning (Risk MAP) program is designed to track the watershed, which includes several creeks and takes in part of four counties.
Over the course of the next several years, the goal will be to come up with plan to reduce flooding in the watershed, Rusco said. There could be federal money available to cover at least part of cost for any work that is done. However, Rusco said, the program does not involve new federal regulations.