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Hillsborough Public Safety Complex Breaks Ground

Across from the Central Hillsborough Water Treatment Facility in Brandon is a few acres of upturned dirt littered with the beginnings of a construction project that county officials hope will help them better handle natural disasters.

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Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF News
An artist rendering of the new Public Safety Operations Complex in Brandon, which should be built by September 2016.

Ground was broken Thursday morning for the Public Safety Operations Complex, a 52,000-square-foot facility that will replace Hillsborough County’s Fire Rescue Headquarters and Emergency Operations Center, both located on Hanna Avenue in Tampa.

“Four hurricanes in a row in 2004 were vivid reminders that we are completely surrounded by water and we have to take that as important reminder to all of us,” said Sandra Murman, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

“Hurricane preparedness is going to be a way of life for Floridians and that’s what our emergency operations center does such a good job at in getting the word out. It’s not just a seasonal occurrence. I know we hype it up for June 1, but it’s all year long.”

Those same hurricanes are what made the need for a new facility so apparent, said the county’s new Fire Rescue Chief, Dennis Jones.

Jones recalls many uncomfortable nights spent in the current emergency operations and fire rescue buildings, which are 23 years old, cramped and equipped with outdated technology.

"I personally spent a lot of long hours - 24, 48, 72 hours at time - sleeping on the floor in a facility that was really not designed to manage the emergencies we were dealing with at the level we were trying to deal with them,” Jones said.

The complex will house Fire Rescue’s administrative staff and training center, the Emergency Dispatch Center and the Office of Emergency Management.

A 10,000-square-foot fleet operations area and a 15,500-square-foot warehouse will also be built on-site for Fire Rescue.

Three years in the making, the new facility’s Emergency Operations Center will feature room for more personnel, a more efficient layout, a larger media area, more sleeping quarters, and up-to-date technology. The facility also will be built to withstand a category 5 hurricane.

“The facility is not suited for the way we operate today,” said Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Director Preston Cook. “Things have changed in over 20 years. Technology has changed in over 20 years.”

“The new facility will have more digital technology. We’ll have satellite capabilities more so than we have now. We’ll also have the integration of all of those communications pieces that are disparate systems now so that we call can communicate more effectively together.”

Construction is scheduled to be completed by September 2016 on the on 20 acres at 9450 E. Columbus Drive, between Falkenburg Road and U.S. Highway 301 in Brandon. 

The project will cost $36.1 million and is being funded by General Revenue and Public Safety Improvement Bond Project Funds.