The new SEOC facility will help Minnesotans get through their worst day

Jan. 11, 2021

The SEOC floor torn up after a sewer pipe broke
A burst sewer pipe was just one of the setbacks the SEOC experienced while activated for the pandemic, making it clear that a new facility is needed.

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) has now been active for more than 300 days during the sustained COVID-19 response effort. The activation is the longest in Minnesota history. During the pandemic, SEOC staff worked inside this facility as it experienced a burst sewer pipe, bullets piercing a street-side window, and a break-in. They still keep at it as the focus on COVID-19 response shifts from testing to vaccine distribution. But if this prolonged activation has made anything clear, it’s that the SEOC desperately needs a new facility.

The current location cannot accommodate 100 or more federal, state, and local partners in a socially distanced manner. In 2020, staff used overflow areas so they could work safely. In short, the facility simply isn’t big enough. The civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s death further emphasized this fact when SEOC staffers found themselves responding to two incidents at once. Other shortcomings include a lack of redundant power sources, communication network difficulties caused by nearby tall buildings, and security concerns.

Fortunately, state lawmakers saw the need for a new facility and approved Gov. Walz’s bonding bill in October. The new facility will be a much larger, standalone building situated on a 10 acre parcel of land outside of the urban St. Paul setting north of the capital city. Currently, the project is in the predesign phase. The Minnesota Department of Administration has already sent out a request for proposals from design firms who may be interested in this project. Leaders with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management division (DPS-HSEM) reviewed those proposals this month and a team will choose a design firm in the coming weeks.

Barring any delays to the project, design development will take place this spring and summer. Bidding for construction is set for July through November this year. Actual construction should start in January 2022 and could take 12-14 months to complete. This means the new facility will likely open sometime in the spring of 2023.

The new SEOC will not only give staff the room and resources they need to manage emergencies; it will also be the state’s designated “continuity of government” facility. This means that during a catastrophic event, the SEOC will be the place where the governor and other key officials would relocate to ride out the emergency.

Bringing elected officials together with federal, state and local partners in a facility that lacks the tools and resources needed to manage an emergency isn’t an ideal situation. That’s why DPS-HSEM leadership have been advocating for a new facility for more than a decade. We want people to feel safe when they come to work, especially when they are responding to a stressful situation. Their job in the SEOC is to help Minnesotans get through their worst day, and the new facility will give them the space and resources to do it.