Homeland Security and Public Safety

Salt Lake City Paves the Way for Disaster-Resistant Building

The city’s sustainable, earthquake-resistant public safety building could blaze trails for local government.

Since 1989, Deputy Police Chief Tim Doubt has solved crimes from Salt Lake City’s public safety building at the intersection of East and South streets. Built in 1958, the structure is the current home base for police, fire and emergency communications.

And, as far as Doubt is concerned, leaving the old facility behind and moving into a new “smart,” energy-efficient building can’t come fast enough.

“It was originally built for around 300 people and now there’s 600 in this building,” he said. Not only is the facility crammed, but its age also has caused structural fatigue. “Everybody’s so close together. The air conditioning system doesn’t work, the heating system doesn’t work, and to be forced to work in that kind of environment day-in and day-out is just depressing.”

The nine-story building has water damage, sewage leaks have reached 911 computers and evidence storage, and the site was rated not functionally survivable in an earthquake. Daylight doesn’t reach many offices, and cramped cubicles and broken windows produce a sullen atmosphere.

The problems have prompted Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration to take action, but the solution goes far beyond creating bigger space and better power. Salt Lake City leaders are constructing an earthquake-resistant, energy-efficient building that’s intended to produce minimally at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it consumes.

In addition to police and fire, the new building will house: 911 emergency communication services; emergency operations and management staff; and IT, telecommunications and voice radio systems.

Officials have branded the facility as Salt Lake City’s “net zero energy public safety building,” the inbound administrative headquarters for the police and fire departments, as well as the emergency operations and 911 centers. According to the U.S. Energy Department, net zero buildings produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year.

Innovation With a Green Touch

Salt Lake City plans to have the new public safety building completed by summer 2013. Although the facility’s far from complete, taxpayers can preview what they’re getting from renderings and videos on the city website. Images of angular glass walls, sleek metallic surfaces, verdant flora and expansive indoor and outdoor spaces give impressions of a futuristic community square, not a hub for tense criminal investigations and disaster management operations. 

The city partnered with construction and engineering firms, including MOCA Systems, GSBS Architects and Dunn Associates, for the project. Their four-story, 168,000-square-foot marvel is designed to benefit both citizens and the professionals tasked with protecting them. The building’s attributes include: 

  • Salt Lake City’s data center;
  • two underground parking levels in addition to the four above ground;
  • an outdoor public plaza and festival space for city events;
  • rooms for community CPR classes and other safety training;
  • an atrium lobby where citizens can research police records, drop off expired prescription drugs and interact with police and fire headquarters; and
  • a museum focused on the history of Salt Lake City’s police and fire departments.

Each of the features above warrants praise, but the building’s energy-saving parameters will arguably be the most intriguing feature, as they are atypical for a police and fire campus.

GSBS engineer Curtis Clark said Salt Lake City solicited proposals from companies to install a 314-kilowatt solar array on the roof that will generate 420,000 kilowatt-hours per year in photovoltaic energy. To put that number into perspective, in 2010, the average home used about 11,500 kilowatt-hours, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The city is bidding out an additional installation at an offsite landfill for extra power but hasn’t decided whether it will be a 720, 1,000 or 1,300 kilowatt array. It’s estimated that this extra array will generate up to 2 million kilowatt-hours a year in solar energy.

The solar arrays are intended to supply off-the-grid power during catastrophes to essential functions like the EOC and data center.

If successful, they could be a gateway to more deployment in Salt Lake City’s future. “This is kind of the pilot program for the city to see how realistic it is to make that happen for other areas,” said Chad Jones, MOCA’s project manager for the net zero energy building.

Other energy-efficiency measures will include:

  • a solar water heating system;
  • desktop energy monitoring technology;
  • occupancy sensors that automatically turn devices on or off depending on the absence or presence of people in areas; and
  • an additional solar array atop an outdoor man-made canopy that will cover a walkway to the building entrance and provide outlets for citizens to charge their mobile gadgets.

Along with the building’s net zero emissions parameters, additional energy-efficiency measures like these will earn the location a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status.

Built to Last

The Wasatch fault is a vertical motion fault running through Salt Lake City, and it’s always a potential seismic threat. Consequently, project leaders designed the building to withstand a magnitude 7.3 earthquake or weaker. They want disaster management pros to be able to continue working during the quakes.

Hilton Collins  | 

Hilton Collins is a former staff writer for Emergency Management magazine.