Georgia Disaster Training Site Features 9th Ward Replica

By WAYNE CRENSHAW | February 17, 2012

Work is under way on what might be one of the most unique construction projects ever done in Middle Georgia.

For years, the whisper of the wind around vacant buildings has been about the only thing to be heard at the former Northrop Grumman missile plant in Perry, but on recently it roared with the sound of earth-moving equipment.

Guardian Centers of Georgia is building a 70-acre mock city that will be used to train thousands of emergency personnel and first responders from around the country.

The excavating equipment stopped briefly as about 100 people gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony.

Guardian founder and Chief Executive Officer Geoff Burkart gave some new details about the $51 million project.

The layout of the city is patterned after the downtown street grid of Seattle. Burkart said the city’s L-shape restricts sight lines and presents challenges to trainees.

It also will feature a neighborhood based on New Orleans’ 9th Ward, which was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. The mock-up can be flooded or drained as needed for training, he said.

It also will have a high school football stadium, because Burkart said that’s where staging of emergency personnel is most often done when there is a major disaster in a community.

He has been planning the project since he worked in the Hurricane Katrina disaster area in 2005.

“This is a culmination of a long journey,” Burkart said.

Work is expected to take about a year, and when it is operational is expected to employ 100 people full-time. Other jobs will be available for people to play the roles of victims.

As many as 5,000 emergency personnel may be at the site at any given time. There will be some lodging on site and some will stay in local hotels.

Local economic developers are expecting a direct impact of $75 million annually. That’s not counting indirect impact such as trainees spending money in local restaurants.

Although Burkart said it’s not something he considered in designing the project, he already has had some Hollywood people call about filming there.

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