Preston: 'We need to develop a regional shelter'

By Erika Mahoney

February 22, 2014 Updated Feb 22, 2014 at 1:09 AM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) Broome County Executive Debbie Preston took office just months after Tropical Storm Lee tore through the Southern Tier.

Recovering from that natural disaster remains one of her biggest challenges.

In her third State of the County Address, Preston said becoming better prepared for the next natural disaster is a major goal.

One of the big challenges during the 2011 flood was where to house a massive evacuation.

That year, the Binghamton University Events Center became the area's largest shelter, providing cots and food to more than 1,800 people. For some, it was their home for nearly two weeks.

Preston announced a new plan to acquire from the federal government part of the former Army Depot in the town of Fenton and turn it into a regional shelter.

She said she has been discussing the deal with the federal government for the past fourteen months and will apply for several grants.

The Army Depot was built around World War II and was primarily used to stockpile defense materials.

The federal government closed it in 2005, and the county began brainstorming new uses for it.

The Director of Emergency Services said there's a great need for another shelter.

"We see this as a solution to be able to shelter a lot of people in times of emergencies," Broome County Director of Emergency Services Brett Chellis said.

Preston said she envisions the regional shelter as more than just a place to sleep.

"It's not just a place to throw in a bunch of cots," Preston said. "Yes, it would be a place like that. But you also have a place where you can bring in a bunch of phones and put them on the walls so people can get a hold of their families. You want to have a place where they can get some laundry done."

The site has multiple warehouses that are about 40,000 square feet.

Preston said in addition to being a shelter, she also plans to use it as a training facility for local emergency responders and law enforcement personnel.

While Preston said she's confident the county will be able to turn the old depot into a shelter, she said there's no timetable for its development or how much it's going to cost.

While it's a longterm project that will require a lot of work, Preston said it could help thousands of people across the region during the next natural disaster.