From vision to reality: Building the new Chatham County Emergency Management Center

By Gene Galin

Pittsboro, NC – The new Emergency Management Center in Chatham County was a project that involved close collaboration between the director of Emergency Management, the 911 director, and the County facilities director. Starting in 2017-2018, this endeavor aimed to provide more space and better services to the community. Despite facing various challenges, the project was ultimately successful.

At the grand opening event, I had a chance to have a conversation with Harry Pettoni, a partner at the Schrader Group and a key figure in the project. He helped shed some light on the center’s development, its state-of-the-art features, and the challenges overcome to bring this critical infrastructure to fruition.

The Genesis: A Comprehensive Study

Pettoni begins by elaborating on the origins of the project. The need for a new Emergency Management Center became evident as Chatham County experienced rapid growth. One of the primary goals of this project was to bring various agencies together under one roof. The outdated facilities were no longer sufficient to meet the demands of a burgeoning community. Pettoni recalls the collaborative effort that started with a comprehensive study, engaging various agencies and stakeholders.

“The purpose of the study was to develop a program and identify the space needs for the diverse agencies that would converge in the Emergency Management Center during a crisis,” Pettoni explains. This initial phase served as a roadmap, determining not only the requirements but also the budgetary constraints that the project had to adhere to.

Hardened Infrastructure: A Shelter Against the Elements

One of the key features of the Chatham County Emergency Management Center is its “hardened” infrastructure. As Pettoni describes it, this is a secure building designed to withstand the most extreme elements, including 250 mph winds from tornadoes or hurricanes. The hardened portion serves as a storm shelter and a resilient core that ensures the center can remain operational in the face of adversity.

Inside this fortified section, Pettoni details the meticulous design, with thick, reinforced walls and strategically placed, high, and small windows. These features not only contribute to the building’s security but also make it an efficient and resilient structure, ready to face any challenge.

Balancing Growth and Preparedness

Managing the study, design, and construction of a secure building infrastructure required careful budgeting and project management. The county allocated resources for acquiring land, which was part of their forward-thinking approach to future growth and development.

Addressing concerns about the community’s future growth, Pettoni assures that the Emergency Management Center is not just a static structure but a dynamic one. “The building is designed for expansion,” he explains, emphasizing that the architects considered the county’s anticipated growth in their plans. This foresight ensures that the center will continue to serve the community effectively for the next 25 to 30 plus years, with provisions for future expansions.

Schrader Group’s Legacy: 20 Years of Building Resilience

As a partner at Schrader Group, Pettoni reflects on the firm’s legacy in constructing such critical facilities. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Schrader Group has been at the forefront of designing and building emergency management centers across the country. The constant evolution of technology and communication methods has been a driving force behind the firm’s success.

“These buildings are designed for the next generation,” Pettoni emphasizes. As technology advances, so do the facilities Schrader Group constructs. The advent of artificial intelligence and the changing landscape of communication technologies continually influence the design and functionality of these crucial structures.

Overcoming Challenges: Navigating the Site and Supply Chain Issues

While the completion of the Chatham County Emergency Management Center is a testament to success, Pettoni acknowledges that it was not without its challenges. The site itself, a sprawling 300-acre wooded land, posed a significant obstacle. Developing the site required innovative solutions to navigate the landscape and bring infrastructure to the building. The team had to navigate through the process of permitting, including building a bridge across a stream. 

Additionally, the project faced supply chain issues, a challenge that became more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Delays in obtaining crucial components required creative problem-solving. “It pushed the schedule out, but everyone worked together,” Pettoni notes, highlighting the collaborative spirit that enabled the team to find temporary solutions and keep the project on track.

The Human Element: Enthusiastic Teams and Satisfied Clients

As Pettoni reflects on the project’s success, he emphasizes the importance of the people involved. “The people we work with and this space we’re standing in,” he says, are what bring the most satisfaction. Seeing the enthusiasm of the directors, such as Mike Wries and Steve Newton, and witnessing the positive impact the center has on their work, is what truly puts a smile on Pettoni’s face.

Looking Ahead: A Safe Community for Years to Come

In conclusion, Pettoni commends Chatham County for its dedication to community growth and safety. He acknowledges the efforts of the commissioners and expresses confidence in the center’s ability to serve as a safe haven for the community for decades to come. In the ever-changing landscape of emergency preparedness, the new Chatham County Emergency Management Center stands as a beacon of resilience, a testament to collaboration, and a symbol of a community dedicated to the safety and well-being of its residents.

Watch the conversation with Harry Pettoni on YouTube.

00:13 The Emergency Management Center in Chatham County was developed to provide more space and better service to the community.

  • Started in 2017-2018, this project was developed in collaboration with the director of Emergency Management, the 911 director, and County facilities director.
  • The project faced challenges during the development process but was successfully completed, and is now considered an incredible journey.

02:07 Building Technology includes communication, Building Systems, and storm shelters.

  • The building is a hardened facility that can withstand any elements.
  • The study was conducted to develop a program and space needs for various agencies to come together in one place.

04:09 Budgeting and project management for the study and design of a secure building infrastructure

  • The study provided an opportunity to be fiscally responsible and manage the project from beginning to end
  • The county purchased land for future growth and development of the building and other government facilities

06:04 The building is fully reinforced and designed for expansion

  • The building is like a shell with reinforced top, bottom, and sides
  • There is a balance between hardened and non-hardened portions of the building
  • The building is designed to accommodate future growth and expansion

07:53 Schrader Group has been building facilities for 30 years

  • The company has effectively built such facilities throughout the country
  • They focus on designing buildings for Next Generation communication technologies

09:37 The biggest challenge in this project was developing the site and getting infrastructure to the building.

  • Finding a location and accessing the property was difficult due to the 300 acre wooded land.
  • The team had to navigate through the process of developing and permitting the site, including building a bridge across a stream.

11:22 Delays and challenges faced during construction

  • Delayed schedule due to creative sequencing and temporary solutions.
  • Waited for key components and specialized windows, adapting to challenges.

13:10 The two things that put the biggest smile on Harry’s face about this facility are the people we work with and how it facilitates our beliefs and provides safety to the communities.

  • The enthusiasm and dedication of the people we work with, including the directors and staff.
  • The support and dedication from Chatham County Commissioners in providing a safe community.