A new high-tech facility that will allow different agencies to plan for, assess and assign resources to wildfires and other disasters is looking at a 2018 completion date, according to officials.
The new, 70,000-square-foot Cal Fire Southern Region Operations Facility will be located along Z Street in the eastern quarter of March Air Reserve Base.
It will replace the current facility on Mulberry Street in Riverside, Cal Fire Southern Region Chief Thomas Porter said during a groundbreaking ceremony.
"This one will have indoor space about a third more than we currently have," said Porter. He said that there's been a need for a larger facility not just for members of Cal Fire, but for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Those departments already have members assigned to the Southern Region's location on Mulberry Street, but often it's been difficult to have enough space for everyone to be there at the same time.
That's something officials are hoping to fix through the new facility, said Porter.
"It'll be more inclusive of all agencies," he said. "We'll all be in the same general area, in the same building, and be able to, in real time, communicate with each other as an event (happens)."
The Southern Region has a coverage area spanning parts of Monterey, Stanislaus and Calaveras counties to the Mexican border. It primarily works to address wildfires.
The different agencies work together, coming up with plans and assigning resources for the blazes.
"So between whether a fire is on federal land ... or on private or state land, we are able to coordinate in real time at that location and be able to move aircraft around the entire state."
The center can also assign resources in the case of other disasters, such as earthquakes.
Everything will be computerized at the new center, Porter said. That's a lot different than how things used to be.
"When we first started at the current 'south ops,' everything was on what we called T-cards and racks," he said. "They're like index cards that you hang on racks and you move them around by hand."
Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott said the new facility also will have technology to let the agency track all of its vehicles, which will be useful in deciding where and how to assign resources if there is more than one fire at a time.
"They'll be able to see where that resource is anywhere in a given time and divert them," he said.
Jeanne Wade Evans, a deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service, said she looks forward to the organization she thinks the new building will bring, since members of different agencies will easily be able to work with one another and train together.
"We're always looking for efficiencies in government and this is one of them," she said.
The facility will cost about $55 million and be funded at the state and federal level through bonds, said Cal Fire officials. Construction is expected to conclude in October 2018.
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