PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Gulf Coast State College is moving forward with a cutting-edge new emergency response communication and training program they’ve been designing for years.
This comes after Triumph Gulf Coast approved a grant for about $5 million last week to be used to help fund the program.
GCSC President Dr. John Holdnak said Hurricane Michael taught many lessons that were utilized in building the program.
“We learned a lot, things that decision-makers needed to know when they didn’t,” Holdnak said. “The best way we can help people quickly is to make sure that the people who are responsible for getting help on the way know what to expect when they get there.”
That’s the idea behind the new program, unofficially called the Gulf Coast Regional Center for Emergency Response and Communication.
“We’re going to be the first facility that operates this type of technology,” said Jose Lopez-Baquero, the unmanned systems program instructional coordinator at GCSC.
The new program will use advanced drone and satellite technology with aerial, land and underwater capabilities, along with a mobile command center.
The goal is to be able to deploy the systems in an emergency situation or disaster zone in order to collect data from the scene that may be difficult for humans alone to collect and analyze quickly, to then send back to an emergency operations center where emergency personnel, law enforcement and other decision-makers can respond with the appropriate resources.
Bay County Emergency Management Division Chief, Frankie Lumm, said it’ll be a great asset.
“It will be something state of the art as we continue to build,” he said. “A lot of folks from around the United States and especially over here in the southeastern corner, they’re going to want to see what our operations are and how we do business.”
Dr. Holdnak said the equipment is meant to be used across the Northwest Gulf region and possibly the entire state in the future, with trained operators available to deploy at a moment’s notice.
“I do think that it’ll put us on the map in terms of emergency management and first responders,” Holdnak said. “We think we’re right there on the cutting-edge of where things are going.”
He said they’re ordering the equipment soon, with hope to launch the program next fall. He said much of the training and stationing for the program will be at the Gulf/Franklin campus.