Columbia County can now claim Georgia's largest and best-equipped Mobile Operations Center.
Pam Tucker, Columbia County's Emergency Services director, shows off the rooftop camera and large plasma television in the conference room of the new Mobile Operations Center.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
"It's the most sophisticated vehicle in the state right now, and that includes GEMA (Georgia Emergency Management Agency)," said Mike Ferrall, the vice president of operations for North American Catastrophe Services Inc., the company that custom-built Columbia County's mobile 911 and command center.
Ferrall was one of three company employees who drove the wide-body vehicle from Melbourne, Fla., to its new home: a storage area at the side of the county's emergency services office.
The vehicle was displayed for the public Friday.
"It's got air suspension. It rides like a Cadillac, literally," said Bill Boynton, one of the two senior engineers who installed some of the final bits of electronics on board the vehicle Friday morning while the general public and others were invited to tour the new vehicle.
An official dedication ceremony will be held Dec. 16 after final radio installations and some interior work are completed.
The $448,620 vehicle was paid for in full by a Homeland Security grant awarded to the county in 2003.
The vehicle was built as a mobile 911 center and incident command center, with enough room for six 911 dispatchers and a supervisor, weather stations, the ability to talk via radio to just about anyone and a high-resolution zooming camera mounted on a 35-foot-tall pole.
The camera can read license plates from the length of a football field.
"This is a great day for our county," Pam Tucker, the county's Emergency Services director, said Friday.
"I think our county just got safer.''
Steve Aaronson (left), the driver of the Mobile Operations Center, and Bill Boynton, a senior engineer for North American Catastrophe Services, check out the new vehicle hours after it was delivered. The vehicle operates as a mobile 911 center and command center, with weather stations.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Before the vehicle arrived, personnel at the scene of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or chemical spill would have gathered around a fire truck as a command center.
"Disasters are becoming more frequent and more destructive," Tucker said. "We have the threat of terrorism we didn't used to have. We've got school violence issues.
"Imagine having those issues without having the ability of assembling your key people at the scene and have the kind of communication and information feedback to protect people," Tucker said.
The command vehicle could be called out to help anywhere in the state with the county's mobile-operations team.
Steve Aaronson, a member of the county's dive team and Community Emergency Response Team, earned his commercial class B driver's license to be a driver for the team.
"I am looking forward to driving this," Aaronson said, adding that the vehicle might appear in the Martinez Christmas parade.
The vehicle weathered hurricanes Jeanne and Frances while being built in Melbourne, Fla.
Its on-board weather stations provide wind speed, direction, temperature and other vital weather information.
Kurt Bleemel, a firefighter and truck driver for the Martinez Fire Department, offered to be a mobile-operations team driver after sitting in the front seat and enjoying the sound system.
"I want to drive that thing 10-18 down the road with lights and sirens," Bleemel said excitedly, referring to the county's emergency code to move quickly.
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