Vannoy Construction builds ‘Doomsday Disneyland’ in central Georgia

By Alan Bulluck

April 7, 2014

A local construction company’s project is getting a lot of national attention.

Guardian Centers, a disaster preparedness training facility located in Perry, Ga., was built by Jefferson-based Vannoy Construction, and while it opened a little less than two years ago, it has recently caught the attention of TV and print media outlets, and even some Hollywood directors.

The “Doomsday Disneyland” and “FEMA Concentration Camp,” as it’s been called by some, was recently featured on NBC’s “The Today Show,” on March 26 and CNN, on March 31. Filming for the motion picture “Barely Lethal,” starring Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Alba, recently wrapped up at the facility.

“There are no other facilities like this in the U.S.,” Dan Booker, project manager for Vannoy Construction in Anderson, S.C., said.

Guardian Centers was designed to train first responders, police, firefighters, National Guard and military personnel to assist in the event of natural and man-made disasters.

The facility sits on 830 acres of land in the quiet town of Perry, 100 miles southeast of Atlanta.

Guardian Centers is the brainchild of Geoff Burkart, a former telecommunications executive with BellSouth who witnessed firsthand, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mismanaged response to Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, back in 2005.

Burkart started conceptualizing the idea for a privately-run and financed disaster training facility, in 2007, settled on a location in 2011 and opened for business in 2013.

“We’re primarily just a tool, and we want to be the best tool,” Burkart, founder and CEO of Guardian Centers, said. “We can adapt and provide everything the client needs almost on demand.”

According to a mission statement on Guardian Center’s website,”The 830 acre complex, available for use 24/7 throughout the year, can simulate almost any disaster, on almost any scale…enabling up to 7,000 participants at a time, to train in a realistic cityscape.”

Booker said the total cost of construction for the project was $26 million.

“We started construction in January 2012,” Booker said. “The project was scheduled to take 13 months, but we completed the project in nine months.”

Guardian Centers is like a small city within a city, reminiscent of a large set at Warner Brothers or Universal studios. It is comprised of: eight fully furnished homes, 60 single and multi-story buildings, a 1.1 mile interstate highway, a city block with a bank, post office, liquor store and other businesses, a subway tunnel with eight subway cars donated from Washington, D.C.’s Metro, a pond for underwater rescue operations and undeveloped forestland for wilderness training.

The facility has also proven to be a boon to the Perry economy, where local economists estimate that revenue generated by people and groups who use the facility nets around $75 million annually.

While only one facility exists today, there are plans to build more in the future.

“The owners have talked about creating two more in the U.S. over the next several years,” Booker said. “They’re evaluating the Perry, Ga., location before any formal information will be released about the future locations.”

Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.