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Command center loaded for action

August 18, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - The 25-foot box trailer was a shell three weeks ago, but Franklin County Department of Emergency Services personnel have loaded it with radio, satellite and other communications equipment to create a mobile command center that soon will be available to assist in major police, fire, weather and other emergencies.

"We're getting more requests to go out on incidents and provide mapping and coordination," Emergency Services Director Jerry Flasher said.

Whether it is a flood, major fire, missing person search or hazardous materials incident, the mobile command center can be towed to the scene to provide central communications between the various agencies involved.

The center has radio consoles to communicate with all of the fire, emergency medical services, state and municipal police agencies in the county, as well as many of the same agencies in neighboring counties, Flasher said. It also carries a number of handheld radios for on-scene communications.

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The trailer can sprout a 30-foot UHF antenna, and has an on-board computer with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping software and a second computer for incident management and Internet communications with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, South Central Pennsylvania Regional Task Force and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Flasher said.

A roof-mounted anemometer spun slowly in a light breeze, part of a weather station within the trailer. It also has satellite television for local and national news and weather information, along with a Global Positioning System.

The trailer also is equipped with a fax machine, scanner and printer, Flasher said.

A 6,500-watt generator can power the mobile command center for up to 14 hours at a time, but it also can be plugged into an electrical source if power is available, Flasher said.

"It can provide the communications and technology to run a unified incident command center from the scene," he said.

The county is getting the command center at a bargain price. The department has had the trailer for a couple of years, using it to haul emergency equipment, but the work of converting it to a command center has been done by the same people who will be using it, Department of Emergency Services staff.

While some of the technology it contains was funded by grants, much of the radio equipment and furnishings already were owned by the county, Flasher said. The cost to the county was about $6,500. Purchasing a manufacturer unit would have cost between $50,000 and $75,000, he said.

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