NOAA centralizes disaster planning, response expertise in Gulf region at new facility

Ceremony marks opening of NOAA’s new Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center

October 15, 2012

Ribbon cutting ceremony.

U.S. Senator Richard B. Shelby joins NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Eric Schwaab (left) and NOAA National Ocean Service Assistant Administrator David Kennedy (right)  in cutting the ribbon formally opening the new $11 million LEED silver standard Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center. 

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

NOAA leaders joined members of Congress, as well as federal, state, and local emergency responders today at the grand opening of the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Ala.
The new 15,200-square foot facility will serve as a central coordination point for federal, state and local emergency managers, and partners who rely on NOAA’s scientific support to make decisions to protect and restore the Gulf Coast’s communities, economies, and valuable natural resources.
“NOAA provides important services to the Gulf of Mexico response community, from forecasting the paths of hurricanes to restoring the environment after oil spills,” said David Kennedy, assistant NOAA administrator for coastal and ocean services. “I know this facility will greatly enhance our ability to coordinate regionally, while improving the accessibility of NOAA resources to emergency managers. We are grateful for the support Senator Shelby and others have provided to make it a reality.”
“The Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center will be critical to Alabama and other states in the region as they prepare for and respond to disasters, natural and otherwise, that affect the Gulf of Mexico and those that thrive off of its resources,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. “By assisting susceptible communities like Mobile in their emergency preparedness, this facility will help to prevent unnecessary tragedies in future crises.”

Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Ala.

Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center in Mobile, Ala.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Over the past decade, the Gulf region has faced both natural and human-caused disasters, including hurricanes, oil spills, tornadoes, droughts, harmful algal blooms, and wildfire. While many of these severe events cannot be prevented, NOAA can reduce their effects by helping to prepare federal, state, and local decision makers for a variety of hazards and threats.

The center allows NOAA to consolidate several programs in the Gulf region, streamlining response to emergencies. It will house navigation response crafts and their teams, as well as experts in oil and chemical spill response, incident meteorology, damage assessment, habitat conservation and restoration planning, marine debris, nautical charting, and navigation safety.

“The ultimate goal is to be a centralized hub in the Gulf of Mexico region and make our responses to emergencies more efficient,” said Charlie Henry, center director. “The data NOAA will provide from this center will inform daily weather reports, help to ensure national security, help us determine if seafood is safe, and guide cargo ships loaded with goods we all buy at the store. Bringing these closely linked talents and resources under one roof will help streamline delivery of NOAA services for regional emergency preparedness and response.”

Centrally located in the Gulf region, the center is designed to withstand severe weather events such as hurricanes and tornadoes; the facility was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and includes an interior F5 tornado shelter. The building was designed using sustainable principles and is built to the Silver Certification standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) from the U.S. Green Building Council.

In addition to office space, the facility includes a training room, conference rooms, and a large multifunction space that can be used for emergency response operations and drills.

Operations at the center are ramping up; NOAA employees are already conducting shoreline assessments, and have held oil spill response and storm surge workshop sessions for federal and state emergency managers. Over time, NOAA will increase its response training and workshops. Today’s opening event included a capabilities demonstration of NOAA products, services, and expertise that are available to the Gulf of Mexico emergency response community for disaster preparation, response, and recovery.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at and join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.