On Thursday 21st December, three members of Subterranea Britannica, Nick Catford, Keith Ward & Duncan Halford visited the Essex County Emergency Centre, which is located in the basement of County Hall in Chelmsford.
The present Emergency Centre was built when County Hall was extended in 1985, as the previous emergency centre, also in the basement, had become unusable due to water ingress.
There is no extra blast protection and entry to the two room centre is through an ordinary wooden door, which gives access into the control room, which is a large rectangular room with tables along two walls, and tables set in two blocks in the centre of the room. Each table has a number of telephones and a computer connection; each agency would bring their own computer with them, which would link, directly to their own office. The ventilation ducting is concealed behind wooden panels along one wall.
In the far corner a door leads to the emergency exit into the car park above. The communications room is accessed through a door adjacent to the entrance door to the control room. Here much of the communications equipment and computer terminals and furniture date back to 1985 but everything is still fully operational.
On one side of the room is the large SX2000 ECN unit with a recently installed box to convert all the lines to digital. The right hand side of the room is partitioned off and here there are radio links to the fire brigade, police and ambulance and the counties own communications network. At the back of the room are the controls for the county’s network of sirens many of which along the coast and the Thames Estuary are still operational for warning of floods. Our guide, the county communications officer, demonstrated how the siren network worked via a network of radio links first to the BBC then back to the individual sirens with a report coming back to the control centre at Chelmsford. He activated the heaters of a bank of sirens along the east coast and a few minutes later a message came back that the heaters were on.
Hidden behind a table alongside the ECN cabinet was a WB1401 carrier receiver and an old style loudspeaker telephone, this appeared to be still working.
The ventilation plant room was just outside the control room door and the standby generator is located in a room close to the original emergency centre which is now used for storage.