A 2,200-acre industrial complex in Perry, Ga., will soon be transformed into the world's first privately owned "mock city" for training first-responder personnel.
The former Northrop Grumman facility — originally built to manufacture missiles — has been vacant since 2002. The government contracts that led Northrop Grumman to build the complex were canceled before manufacturing could begin.
The site was acquired last week by a company called The Guardian Centers of Kennesaw, Ga. President and CEO Geoff Burkart told the Perry City Council on Tuesday that construction is expected to begin in January.
The site will eventually contain a fake interstate, two blocks of demolished buildings, a command center and a helicopter pad — and enough room to train up to 5,000 first responders at a time. "The facility is designed to simulate disasters of all kinds," including terrorist attacks and natural disasters, Burkart said during the meeting.
Once completed, the fake city is expected to create around 100 real, full-time jobs.
Business owners were excited about the prospects of a boost to the local economy. "With more people, there is more sales, more sales is more profit and more tax money for the county and it just proceeds down the ladder," thrift store Nu-2-U owner Lorra Baccili told WMAZ.
The site is being funded by anonymous private investors. "There are no taxpayer dollars going to the building of this facility," company spokesman Jeff Battcher told Homeland Security News Wire last month. Houston County Development Director Morgan Law told WMAZ that Guardian Centers received local tax incentives for creating new jobs in the area. Law also told Homeland Security News Wire that the jobs are important to Perry. "Anytime you can add a hundred or more new jobs to a community, especially when everyone is hurting so desperately, that's a wonderful thing."
Retired Gen. H. Steven Blum is one of the business partners behind The Guardian Centers. Last March, Blum and Burkart told National Guard Today that the vision of the training center came following Hurricane Katrina and Sept. 11. Burkart said at the time, "I asked, 'Why was a nation with unlimited resources stumped at a dramatic event such as this?'"
Blum said their vision for the site was a "joint, interagency, cross-jurisdictional training facility and system that provides a realistic and challenging environment and set of conditions to train the 'team of teams' necessary in responding to any high-end or catastrophic emergency, whether man-made or created by nature."
The Guardian Center had previously tried to establish a site for its training center in nearby Wilkes and Washington counties, but the Perry industrial complex proved to be ideal for their needs. "The Northrop Grumman site just provided so many more opportunities because the facility’s already built," Battcher told Homeland Security News Wire. "From a timing perspective, it was going to be a little quicker to get everything done. That facility is tremendous, and most of it's never been used."
Once construction begins, the facility could be online in as little as nine months.