It’s been 11 months since the 2012 Christmas snowstorm paralyzed many Arkansans for several days, including North Little Rock. Warming centers were opened for families left without electrical power during freezing temperatures.
The storm took place during a major political transition in the city of North Little Rock – where the city north of the river was getting ready to swear in as mayor someone other than Patrick Hays for the first time in a quarter of a century.
But that political transition, and all the associated fanfare, would have to wait as the real lives of city residents were put on hold due to the storm.
Then Mayor-Elect Joe Smith, who ran a campaign on being a man of experience and efficiency, saw his first test of leadership even before he raised his hand to take the oath of office.
North Little Rock did weather the Christmas snowstorm but the event proved to be a learning experience for him and a project he would take very seriously during his first year in office.
The creation that resulted from the 2012 snowstorm was unveiled Monday by North Little Rock leaders.
Smith announced the opening of a new emergency operations center and the implementation of a new emergency plan for the city. An open house was held for the City Council, department heads and media. The new center is located on the second floor of the Downtown Police Substation at the corner of 8th and Main in North Little Rock.
“When an emergency happens, we will be judged and remembered as mayor, aldermen and city employees by how efficiently we respond,” said Smith. “We now have a comprehensive plan in place and a center to come together as administrators and make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Just days before Mayor Smith took office Central Arkansas faced one of the heaviest snowstorms in recent memory. The city came to a standstill due to closed roads and electrical outages. Although city employees and administration were able to restore normal city services in record time, Smith was determined to make the city’s actions during an emergency more streamlined. The new Operations Center and Emergency Plan are the results of months of research, hard work, and innovation by the Emergency Plan Committee, chaired by Deputy Chief of Staff, Charley Baxter.
“The Mayor had a vision of our city doing a better job, not just than how we have done in the past, but better than most cities have done,” said Baxter. “Our committee has brought the best emergency plans in the nation together and made them work for the residents of North Little Rock.”
The bulk of labor, furnishing and equipment for the center were provided by using resources already available to the city, the remaining was purchased for under $10,000, in line with Mayor Smith’s dedication to being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
City Attorney Jason Carter, who is serving as interim general manager of the North Little Rock Electric Department, said the new Emergency Operations Center will enable the city to pool its resources together when an emergency strikes like the Christmas 2012 winter storm.