Added costs of mobile command centers raise concerns among Carroll officials

August 17, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Even though federal grants gave Carroll County the money it needed to buy two mobile command centers, county officials warn that the added costs of operating and maintaining the vehicles should not be overlooked.

Two U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants worth more than $600,000 were awarded this year to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the county's Office of Public Safety to buy two state-of-the-art vehicles - one of which should be ready for use this fall.

But county officials said the cost of maintaining, housing and fueling what would be the longest vehicles in the fleet would need to be included in their budgets.

"Free isn't totally free," said Ralph E. Green, the county's director of general services. "We don't have the facilities to maintain it, so they need to make sure their budgets include maintenance, building a garage and gas."

Green said that the mobile command centers - customized recreational vehicles typically used as a central meeting place for police, fire and rescue units responding to emergencies, including hazardous material spills and hostage situations - are too heavy and too long to fit into the county's maintenance hangars.

Sgt. David Valentine of the Carroll Sheriff's Office is overseeing the specifications of his department's new command center, which will be 38 feet long and 102 inches wide with an expanded work station that can accommodate eight to 10 people.

This and the other command center will be equipped with computers, a dispatch center, work stations, satellite uplinks and video cameras.

The $255,000 mobile command vehicle was ordered by the Sheriff's Office using part of the homeland security grant and additional federal funds.

Sheriff's office spokesman Maj. Thomas Long said the office is working out the logistics of supplying electricity and fuel and arranging storage for the centers, but that he was unaware of the county's inability to perform maintenance on them. He said he is confident the department would be able to do the work.

He said Valentine will deliver radio and computer equipment to be installed in the vehicle, which is being assembled in Ohio. Delivery is expected in October.

A second command center will be ordered by the county's Office of Public Safety, which received a separate $325,000 grant in April for a vehicle to give the county a backup communications and mobile 911 center in the event of a power failure.

Barring that kind of catastrophe, the county's 14 volunteer fire companies will share the mobile command post, from which they can direct rescue and fire operations.

Plans for the vehicle are still being shaped, said William E. Martin, Carroll's emergency management coordinator.

"We have a committee and we've had the first couple of meetings to put this thing together, but it's not even been born yet," Martin said. It will be included in next year's budget, he added, along with expenses for fuel, maintenance and storage.

Leon Fleming, liaison to the county's Volunteer Emergency Services Association, said that $162,145 for land acquisition and a storage facility is included in the county's capital improvements budget.

The mobile command centers are staples in surrounding counties, but money to buy the vehicles wasn't available in Carroll until the Department of Homeland Security authorized the grants.

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