Sears Center gets busy, but not as promised emergency response center
Hundreds of Portland Police Bureau officers will be spending some time in Southwest Portland over the next three months, while training at the Sears Army Reserve Center on Multnomah Boulevard at Southwest 25th.
The Southwest Community Connection has confirmed that any other plans for use of the facility are on hold indefinitely.
Beginning in late August, all sworn officers will go through four days of training at the Sears Center, which is currently being used by the Police Bureau's Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) for "active threat management" training.
Sergeant Jim Darby, a SERT team leader, says the Sears Center is a "great" training facility and is "perfect" for their purposes.
Inside the 25,000 square foot main building on the 3.6 acre lot, SERT officers have designed and constructed a simulated house which can be expanded to re-create the setting for situations warranting a SERT response.
"It's perfect for our purposes because it's got long hallways so we can practice responding to that active threat in a setting that's like a school or a business," Darby said. "Inside the gym, where we built the practice house, we can go from an industrial building to a residential building."
Darby says members of the SERT team spend a quarter of their time on duty in training. Some of them designed and built the "practice house."
The "practice house" is new, but signs of previous uses of the Sears Hall can still be seen. Rooms used four years ago when the building was a temporary homeless shelter still have tape on the floor to indicate where residents could keep their "stuff." The secure cages where the Army Reserve once stored weapons are empty and a few Portland Water Bureau trailers are parked outside.
Darby says the Sears site has multiple benefits.
"It's out of the weather," he said. "There's working plumbing. The water's not potable but that's alright. We bring our own water. There's ample parking. We can train in the parking lot. We can train inside the building. We can train inside the office section."
"And this is a great neighborhood," added the graduate of Saint John Fisher School and Southwest Portland native.
In addition to members of the SERT team, Portland Police Bureau officers will begin training at the Sears Center in mid-August. According to Lieutenant Tina Jones, that training will cover what's called "in-service training," as well as Advanced Academy and Public Safety Specialist Support Academy training.
The Bureau opened a $15 million training center near the Portland International Airport five years ago. Ltnt. Jones tells the Southwest Community Connection in an email, "Our Training Building is not large enough to accommodate all of the concurrent training needs during that time frame," Jones wrote. "We worked with the city to use it (Sears Center) for the months with overlapping training."
There's no current estimate on how many Portland police officers will go through training at the Multnomah Boulevard facility over the next few months.
The last location for SERT training was a row of houses the city of Portland took over along Johnson Creek in Southeast Portland. It wasn't ideal.
"This is safer than training in abandoned houses," Darby said. "Safer and more sanitary."
What neighbors of Sears Center will see in the coming months, as police training sessions start, is a crowded parking lot. What they'll hear may sound like gunfire, but is actually the sound of officers battering steel doors as they would when forcibly entering a residence or business.
The plan to use Sears Center for police training for the foreseeable future would seem to end talk of turning it into a staging area for the heavy equipment necessary in case of a major earthquake or other disaster.
As the Southwest Community Connection reported in February of this year, "On its website, the Bureau of Emergency Management describes the former armory (sic) as 'the future home of the city's west side emergency operations facility.' It says that, once improvements are made to the site, "the Portland Water Bureau, Portland Bureau of Transportation and Portland Bureau of Emergency Management will begin using the center, enabling the city to better respond to emergencies on the west side of the Willamette River."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who was a neighborhood activist in the area before being elected to the City Council, supports that idea.
"I really want to see Sears Center refurbished and ready to go as an emergency coordination center," Fritz told the Southwest Community Connection earlier this year.
The Portland Police Bureau expressed interest last year in the Sears site as a location for a Southwest Portland precinct headquarters. But that proposal has been abandoned for lack of funding.
While Darby says he would like to see the Sears Center become a long-term facility for SERT training, he's uncertain how long the building, which needs major structural upgrades to comply with government regulations, will be available.
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