Carroll takes delivery of command center

Officers begin training in $255,000 vehicle with cutting-edge

October 21, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Carroll County received its first emergency headquarters on wheels yesterday with the delivery of a new mobile command center equipped with cutting-edge technology.

The $255,000 custom-built, multipurpose vehicle will be used as a central meeting place for police, fire and rescue units responding to emergencies such as hazardous material spills and hostage situations. It will also be deployed for select large-scale public events.

At their orientation training yesterday, the seven Carroll County sheriff's deputies assigned to operate the vehicle got their first look at the gleaming 38-foot long, 10-ton white-and-blue vehicle, which combines emergency communications with a tactical base.

They liked what they saw.

"It turned out really nice," said Sgt. David Valentine, who oversaw the center's construction.

Although the county's 14 volunteer fire departments can request use of the command center, Valentine said that priority would be given to law enforcement agencies.

"It will fit our needs very nicely," said Capt. Vince Maas, one of two commanders who will oversee from the vehicle major incidents and operations that call for the newly formed Carroll County Crisis Response Team. Westminster police Maj. Dean A. Brewer is the other incident commander.

"I believe it's what we envisioned," Maas said.

He and other county public safety officials, fire chiefs and rescue personnel will meet in the vehicle's front compartment in the event of an emergency. The heart of the command center is outfitted with equipment they will need to coordinate emergency operations, including laptop computers, fax machines and phones.

Emergency officials have a workspace with two folding tables and one counter in the area, which also has a row of padded seats against the far wall.

The command center boasts several innovations that officials said will enhance emergency operations now coordinated from afar.

A "smart" dry-erase board will automatically send information to computers on-site and off. Dry-erase surfaces are also on cabinets and doors so that incoming information can be viewed by everyone on board. A satellite dish mounted on the roof will also relay Internet and navigational information.

A rear compartment with a separate entrance is dedicated to emergency dispatchers. A solid sliding door separates the two sections, which share a mini-galley and a bathroom.

Even when the door is closed, technology allows both areas to stay linked through the networked computers, two front and rear television monitors and a 35-foot telescopic camera mounted on the ceiling. Television reception will be limited to local channels using an antenna mounted on the roof.

While in motion, the antenna, satellite dish and camera retract and fold flat on the roof. Storage compartments are also built into the exterior of the vehicle, where cones, flares and other emergency accessories will be stored.

One drawback is that the vehicle is a gas guzzler, getting only 10 miles to the gallon.

It will be housed in a secure, climate-controlled county building. Only assigned deputies will be allowed to drive the command center, officials said.

Ordered by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office in March, the vehicle was paid for with money from a $359,000 homeland security grant.

Sheriff's Office officials decided not to convert an old school bus into a mobile command center, opting to start from scratch. They chose Farber Specialty Vehicles, based in Columbus, Ohio, to build the vehicle.

The 25-year-old company specializes in custom-built motor coaches, said Tim Detty, director of logistics for Farber.He drove Carroll's command center to the Westminster Sheriff's Office early yesterday and conducted the training.

Detty said Farber has an extensive history of building mobile command posts for fire and police departments, computer labs, medical clinics and bookmobiles - including those for the Enoch Pratt Public Free Library in Baltimore. A division of the company has designed luxury buses for music legends Ray Charles, who died earlier this year, and Aretha Franklin.

Carroll's vehicle began as a $165,000 Winnebago shell with wood-paneling inside. The heavy-duty motor coach was then outfitted with equipment inspired by Harford County's command center. The specifications for the equipment were provided by Valentine, who visited the Columbus factory three times before the center was completed.

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