In the paper the other day, the lede of a Washington County story rightly focused on millions of dollars in requests for covid-related funding. Farther into the story was another important issue vital to all county residents, many of whom might have been surprised to learn Washington County's Department of Emergency Services had, under the previous county judge, been shuffled off to Lincoln.
Prior to that move, Judge Joseph Wood had shifted the county's Emergency Operations Center from one location to another in Fayetteville, the county seat, for another county priority -- a crisis stabilization unit. Then a need for a new courtroom came along and, suddenly, the Department of Emergency Services is booted to a makeshift facility in Lincoln.
Now, what's not to love about Lincoln? It's a great town. But is it a reasonable spot for an operations center meant to be the robust command center from which to coordinate the response to a major disaster or other emergency incident? Is it likely power supplies, internet access and other critical services -- as well as access to most other county offices -- is stronger in Lincoln than in the county seat? Call us doubtful.
Not only that, the well-experienced Emergency Services Director John Luther says Washington County now stands alone among the state's larger counties in lacking a permanent emergency operations center where different agencies and levels of governments -- city, state, county, federal -- would coordinate in a time of emergency.
Thankfully, the new county judge, Patrick Deakins, recognizes the need for a permanent emergency operations center and raised the issue with the Quorum Court, which agreed enough that Deakins said he'd move forward with work to resolve the shortcoming.
Priorities shift and needs change. The county undoubtedly needed the crisis stabilization unit -- despite its surprise shutdown after two years over a funding issue and more than a year get it revived -- and the new courtroom was also a necessity. County leaders today are right to recognize the Lincoln site isn't a long-term solution to meet the emergency services needs of Washington County.
What will the solution be? Too early to tell, but we'd suggest bringing the emergency operations center back to Fayetteville, where the infrastructure to help coordinate emergency services appears more complete than a rural setting.
What's the point?
After years of not being the priority, it appears Washington County's emergency operations center may eventually be restored to a permanent home.