Less than six months ago, countless people on the East Coast experienced one of the most devastating Hurricanes in U.S. history. Over 300 cars were so damaged by Hurricane Sandy’s affects that they would have to be ‘written off’, but instead of doing so, General Motors decided to put the cars to good use by donating them to Guardian Centers disaster preparedness training facility in Atlanta, Georgia. The 830 acre complex which was founded by Geoff Burkart ‘can replicate the realistic affect of earthquakes, of tornadoes, flooding on a large scale’ and trains first responders with man made and natural disasters they create.
General Motors, Head of Consumer Affairs, James Bell and the Guardian Centers Founder and CEO, Geoff Burkart joined me recently for an interview to discuss the Guardian Centers Training Facility for first responders, and the donation GM recently made to give first responders the additional training they need to help save lives across the nation.
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the Guardian Centers Training Facility for first responders?
Geoff Burkart: “Absolutely, Candace. Guardian Centers is an 830 acre complex dedicated strictly to disaster preparedness and response training exercises. Inside the 830 acres we have a 75 acre metroplex complete with city streets, six miles of intersections and multilane streets. We have over a mile of interstate, and that all feeds what you see behind me here (please see video above) which is a multitude of multistory buildings, they’re all self sufficient. We have a command center with a heliport. We have collapsed city blocks that are dynamic moving parts, moving floors, special effects, role player chambers, subterranean tunnels to create the immersion that first responders will need- that kind of condition training to be more effective with their events come game day.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the man made and natural disasters the training facility can simulate?
Geoff Burkart: “Here at Guardian Centers, we can replicate the realistic affect of earthquakes, of tornadoes, flooding on a large scale. Here we can conduct exercises from the small unit, self contain a multitude of those at one time, all the way up to a 7,000 participant event stretched over a month duration.
We have the ability to stress the first responders, their leadership, their plans, their equipment. And now we have (courtesy of General Motors) the ability to create traffic immersion- full immersion where vehicles are in the way, or vehicles have to be searched on a large scale.”
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the donation that Chevrolet is making?
James Bell: “It’d be my pleasure. We’re very proud of this association. It all started from an unlikely place, if you remember back to October when Hurricane Sandy came through the Eastern Coast we had a stack of vehicles out on a dock there that were all flooded. Normally these vehicles would have had to be written off and salvaged, but we contacted the Guardian Centers and said ‘Could you use these?’ Now, again, these are cars that nobody wants. If you smell the inside of one of these vehicles you won’t be happy. They’re not good. But what they make is a perfect kind of training ground, as he was saying for first responders especially because any vehicles they may have had in the past were just kind of junkers they got from the junkyard that maybe had some structural problems.
These are brand new cars with the latest in materials- composite materials; high-strength steels which as a car make the very safe places to be in in an accident, but for a first responder sometimes it’s hard to get into them to help people who have been trapped inside because of these new high-strength materials. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, and we thought these 300 cars, which again for all intents and purposes they were dead, well maybe they’re going to be here to help save some lives.”
Candace Rose: And how will this improve the safety of Americans?
Geoff Burkart: “Well, the Guardian Centers concept is primarily where multi-agencies can come together in one place to train.
Let’s take a house fire- that’s a dramatic event. It’s immediate, it’s traumatic and your fire crews are well trained to go out there and address it. But if you have a large disaster where it’s an earthquake and there are 100 or 1,000 house fires, that’s overwhelming. You have a terrorist attack, same kind of thing- it’s overwhelming. Katrina, Rita, those were overwhelming events. Sandy was an overwhelming event. So how do you bring all of the agencies together to respond effectively? They have to practice together. And that’s what Guardian Centers is designed to do.”
Candace Rose: Do either of you have any additional information you’d like to share?
Geoff Burkart: “For any of the agencies out there: military, state, local, responders- I’d ask you to go to GuardianCenters.com and give us a call. We would appreciate the opportunity to show you what we’ve built down here.”
James Bell: “And if you’re looking for a car with that ‘new car smell’ instead of that fishy smell like the ones they have here, go to GM.com.”