Douglas acquires mobile emergency center |

Douglas acquires mobile emergency center

by Maggie O'Neill
Shannon Litz/Appeal News Service Harry Raub, front, who will train communications staff to use the new Multi-Agency Command Center, shows its features to Douglas County Sheriff's Office Lt. Mike Biaggini.

A $250,636 mobile emergency response center new to Douglas County through federal Homeland Security grant money means county agencies are better prepared in any crises, not only terrorism events.

“(The command center) meets the need in any kind of disaster, whether it’s terrorism or not,” said Dick Mirgon, Douglas County emergency management supervisor. “They want you to be prepared for a terrorism event, but they want you to purchase things that can be otherwise used.”

The command center, soon to be available to agencies like Tahoe-Douglas Fire, Douglas County Search and Rescue, and East Fork Fire and Paramedic Districts, meets mobile needs during emergencies.

“You need to have a place you can sit down, create operation plans, have the ability to access computers and phones, and be able to strategize to deal with the incident,” Mirgon said.

The 33-foot-long command center was purchased from a Wisconsin company. It is being stored at a county facility, with the plan of eventually finding it a permanent home.

For Douglas County, the command center it can better handle emergencies. Most populated areas have mobile command centers.

“Clark County metro wide probably has five, Washoe County has two, and a third just within the city, and Carson City has one,” Mirgon said. “And we have one.”

The first time Mirgon entered the command center, he was impressed. Amenities include an electronic library to research hazardous materials, space for four dispatchers and a phone system with 12 lines. Internet service is a consideration, but not a definite at this juncture.

“I was absolutely amazed at the quality of work and how functional and useable it was,” he said.

An antenna on the mobile command unit will keep search-and-rescue members in touch with base operations, and vice versa. A conference area has room for six people, and the command center has a coffee pot, water cooler, bathroom and, on top, an observation deck.

Command center training continues for about nine communications people. The center, which came to Douglas in September, has not yet been used in an emergency.

“Our intent is when it’s requested by an agency to send it with a staff,” Mirgon said.

Training includes learning to drive the one-piece unit, putting the antenna up, using the computers and phone lines, and operating the incendiary toilet in the bathroom.

“To use the bathroom, you put a paper liner in a bowl, then you have to close the lid, push a button, and with 240-volts …” Mirgon’s voice trails off.

The command center would have been useful in January 2003’s liquid mercury contamination incident at a Gardnerville Ranchos middle school

“We had no place to sit down within the (area of) the incident to discuss it, to do research, to create operations plans, and to functionally manage the incident,” he said.

Unlike the liquid mercury contamination at the middle school, many hazardous materials incidents occur outdoors, he said.

“A classic example would be a turned-over tanker on (Highway) 395,” he said.

In such a case, the command center would be set up near the tanker, and a 25-foot camera would monitor leakage at the truck, and allow identification numbers to be read off of it. But in an indoor incident, like at the middle school, the camera would be used to see what was going on inside.

“The camera could be used in a hazmat incident when you cannot send people in,” he said.

In the event of an earthquake and the necessary evacuation of the Douglas County communications office, people could work out of the center, Mirgon said.