From the Chief’s Corner: And so it begins: The Origins of the Safer Buildings Coalition

Roseburg Oregon

Posted on May 27, 2021

Like me, I am sure many of you are involved in many different activities and organizations related to business, relationships, or even hobbies. I suspect for the most part you take those activities and organizations at their face value without thinking about how they began. Often, our beginning is simply when or where we became involved. But the history surrounding them can be quite interesting sometimes. Have you wondered about the real beginning of the Safer Buildings Coalition? We have a lot of new members at the Coalition, so this month I want to take you on a little journey back in time to the birthplace of the Safer Buildings Coalition for a look at the when, where, and why we exist both today and tomorrow. 

“And so it begins…” was spoken by King Theoden in the Lord of the Rings movie “The Two Towers” right before the major battle at Helms Deep, a significant event.  Well, I would say that the creation of the Safer Buildings Coalition has also been a significant event. So, where, when, and why did it all begin for the Coalition?  Those answers became clearer to me during a recent executive team strategic session with John, Seth and myself last week back where it all began.

Beginnings: The Who, When, & Where

The year was 2012. The place was a small timber-based community in southern Oregon named Roseburg, boasting a population of just over 21,000.  Founded in 1851, Roseburg is the county seat of  Douglas County covering an area of approximately 11 square miles. The current SBC address is listed as 950 SE Oak Ave in Roseburg (remember that street name). There are several interesting historical facts about the birthplace of the Coalition that relate to our current SBC talking points we use in our presentations related to fires, active shooter incidents and other types of emergencies requiring reliable communications for our first responders. I’ll tell you about those incidents in a moment. But first, let’s discuss SBC’s origin with someone who was there at the very start.

Pablo Picasso once said, “I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else”. Well, that is exactly how the Coalition came into being. One individual from a small city of 21,000 people in southern Oregon (Roseburg) had an idea that involved making sure radio frequency signals that are necessary to communicate work inside buildings for both the public and public safety responders. The idea that if people inside buildings could communicate during an emergency, the building would be safer. The idea that if there were a mission driven non-profit organization that could serve to advocate and educate the critical need for in-building communications, a real difference could be made in the lives of others. Those were some of the ideas motivating our founder, Seth Buechley,  who calls Roseburg, OR his home.

“I believe that nothing important happens until an ambitious person gets frustrated enough to take action”, says Buechley.  “I grew tired of seeing carriers deploy major cellular DAS systems with no attention being paid to enhancing the public safety radio services at the same time.  To me that didn’t make sense, especially for a building owner, and I was motivated to try and change that”.  

From that idea and concept, followed by a fortuitous invitation to speak before the FCC on the topic of DAS in 2012, the Safer Buildings Coalition as we know it today was born. John Maxwell said, “Everything begins with a decision. Then, we have to manage that decision for the rest of your life”. I had the honor and privilege to meet Seth at an APCO event in 2013 and listen to his passion and vision about this new organization called the Safer Buildings Coalition. I had met a lot of dedicated and passionate people in my life, so I recognized rather quickly that this guy was “all in”. Shortly after that meeting I was honored to join Seth and many others in this journey towards making buildings safer through a collective effort of our members.

Roseburg’s Past – Tragic Examples of the Need for First Responder Communication

I did a little research, and I found two incidents in Roseburg’s past that shaped some the local public safety culture.

The first incident was a building fire occurring on August 7, 1959 at approximately 1:00 am at the Gerretsen Building Supply Company located near the corner of Pine and Oak Streets. Firefighters arrived shortly thereafter to fight the fire. What they did not know was that a truck driver for the Pacific Powder Company had parked his truck in front of that building earlier in the evening. Normally, a truck parked on the street would not be a significant issue as it relates to a building fire. But in this case, it was a major issue. The truck was loaded with two tons of dynamite and four and a half tons of ammonium nitrate. The heat from the fire caused the truck to explode at 1:14 am which leveled eight city blocks and damaged three hundred businesses within a thirty-block radius. The explosion became commonly known as “The Blast” which claimed the lives of 14 people and injured 125 others.

Another incident took place on February 23, 2006 when a student entered the Roseburg High School armed with a semi-automatic pistol and shot a fellow student four time leaving him with critical injuries. The school went into lockdown after the shots were fired around 7:45 am.

And tragically, in 2015 another mass shooting took place on the campus of the Umpqua Community College when a lone gunman murdered nine people and injured many others before taking his own life after getting into a shootout with police. (Umpqua Community College audio recordings These Are The Calls 911 Received From The Oregon Campus Shooting - Bing video)

Tragedies like these and many others that take place across the country have one thing in common; the brave first responders that respond to them need critical communications to adequately do their jobs. Without critical communications capability, the outcomes for first responders and those they serve would be negatively impacted. So, that brings me to the why the Coalition came to be and why that decision is truly making a difference.

Roseburg Sign

The Future:

Now I must admit, it has not always been an easy journey for the Coalition. There have been ups and downs along the way, and there will be others in the future. Adversity creates unique opportunities for us and builds our character. As a young man growing up, I often heard the phrase “if it were easy, son, anyone could do it”. That phrase became the cornerstone of my belief that we are not just “anyone”, we are the blessed ones who have the opportunity take on big challenges and turn them into reality. Those challenges allow us to truly make a difference in the world by being involved in something bigger than us that serves others. All of us working together for the common good have an opportunity to take what started just a few short years ago as one man’s idea to even further levels of success.  We can and we will accomplish this…because together we are The Safer Buildings Coalition.

Did you miss last month’s “From The Chief’s Corner” article? Click here