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Emergency command on wheels

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cave City Fire Chief Ronnie Milligan demonstrates the computer system in the mobile command center that is a vital piece of equipment to aid rescue workers in the event of a natural disaster or other incident. Photo/ Tammy Curtis
The Emergency Command Center located at the Cave City Fire Department is unlike any other center of this type in the area and is something the city, county and state can be proud of.

The unit, operated by the Cave City Emergency Response Group (CCERG), a non-profit organization comprised of volunteers and members of the Cave City Fire Department, is a mobile state-of-the-art emergency response and command center which may be mobilized at a moments notice. The center can be used for searches, natural disasters or any other type of incident that might require the collaboration of any number of organizations such as police, fire or utility services. When looking at the outside of the remodeled former race car trailer, one does not get the full effect of the technology powerhouse, until entering the trailer's command area. All walls in the fully enclosed trailer are made of dry erase material, computer screens, weather monitors and areas for maps to be placed on the walls dominate the interior of the center. In the back there is a refrigerator and area for a microwave and cots if needed.

Ronnie Milligan, Cave City Fire Chief and Scott Wooldridge, coordinator, said the fully self-contained vehicle is capable of communicating in any number of ways with other agencies, whether or not there is electricity. It is equipped with four base GRMS hand held radios, ham radio, a television antenna, wireless internet and a GPS system. The unit was used during the recent ice storm. Milligan said that the unit has an onboard generator and also a 12,000 watt power source. He said the unit could run for weeks or even months if there were a source of fuel for the generator, even if the electricity remained out.

Milligan said while at the Chief's Convention in Bentonville, he was able to view a comparable FEMA command unit with a $300,000 price tag. He said the Cave City unit is not only more cost effective, it is also more practical and user friendly. Milligan said that to date, the unit has only cost around $18,000. The organization is currently working on improving the unit with cabinets in the back of the unit. He said it also has an awning that comes off the front of the unit for groups to gather and collaborate on efforts without having to be cramped inside the unit.

The command center is not only for use in the Cave City or Sharp County areas, Milligan said it could be used anywhere in the state or nation, wherever there is a need. He said the organization and equipment will be registered with the Arkansas Fire Service Statewide Mutual Aid Plan. This plan is a pool of resources available to other fire departments or organizations statewide which deal with natural or man made disasters. The plan locates equipment and volunteers or workers and deploys them to areas where there is a need.

While other departments have costly and highly effective command centers, Milligan is proud of Cave City's unit in that the entire cost of the unit has been paid for by donations and fundraising efforts.

The center began as a race car trailer and has been retrofitted to the mobile technology station that it currently houses through the support of the community from Bank of Cave City, Future Fuel, First National Banking Company, Modern Woodmen, numerous area small businesses and individuals. When the trailer was purchased, it was already red, so the lettering was all that was needed and a volunteer also took care of that aspect of the work, saving the organization money.

Milligan said that the department is lucky enough to have various members and volunteers who performed thousands of hours of labor on the unit, making it something to serve the community if the need arises.

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