Officials with the United States Department of Homeland Security have begun efforts to locate houses in the Livingston Parish area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana that can be used as “safe houses” for first responders to use during emergency situations. The houses that the Department is looking for need to be, as one official put it, “strong enough to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods.”
The search is less for existing buildings and more for sites upon which house-like structures can be built by Homeland Security, FEMA, and other federal agencies and where law enforcement, paramedics, and public works employees can group and regroup during their response efforts in a disaster.
According to Mark Harrell, Director of the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP), the houses would not be intended as or used as shelters but as makeshift “headquarters” where first responders can organize their equipment and personnel and establish and manage their response strategy.
There is still a significant amount of work to do to garner final approval from Parish officials for the proposed site but Harrell doesn’t expect that to be a problem and believes the site will be open by the end of next year.
Homeland Security has been working with the Parish to form a partnership that would include participation by several school districts that would benefit from the presence of such safe houses because of their proximity. They would essentially be the first to receive assistance in the event of a disaster and as such the districts were asked to pay 25 percent of the costs associated with building the houses while the Department of Homeland Security would provide a grant to the LOHSEP for the remaining 75 percent.
According to Fred Raiford, the Chief of Operations for Baton Rouge, a donation of the land by the City of Baton Rouge as well as the provision of utilities for the safe houses would be a big help in augmenting the 25 percent contribution that the school districts are being asked to make.