Alabama's comm center can pick up and go

The Team truck can provide radio, satellite and other wireless capabilities on the spot.

In the woods of Alabama's Wind Creek State Park, surrounded by a sea of trailers, sits a small white pickup truck with what looks like a camper on the back.

It would be easy to mistake the truck, with the large satellite dish on its roof and the long antenna extended skyward, for a vehicle belonging to the hordes of media covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But the truck, with 'TEAM' emblazoned on its sides'for 'Tactical Emergency Asset Management''actually is a mobile command, control and communications post, moved into place Sept. 12 to provide a communications bridge for a temporary town of evacuees.

First of its kind

The State of Alabama Emergency Management Agency took delivery of the Team truck three weeks ago. The truck is the first of eight such vehicles the state has purchased, using grant funds from the Homeland Security Department, to prepare for disasters.

Katrina gave Alabama its first chance to put the truck's IT capabilities to work.

Art Faulkner, communications officer and state 911 coordinator for the Alabama Homeland Security Department, said the truck is connecting disparate communications networks between state and local law enforcement agencies.

Alabama and FEMA are providing displaced Louisiana and Mississippi residents with about 500 trailers, and families are slowly beginning to take up residence.

'The police department does not routinely patrol that area, because the state park system has its own officers,' Faulkner said. 'But with the increase in the number of people there'more than just a regular holiday weekend'the police department is going to be supplementing the park police on a daily basis.'

But the handheld radios used by the Alexander City police don't have enough wattage to reach the police department repeaters, he said.

'This vehicle will be used to tie the handheld radios used by officers in the park back to the repeater system in the city,' Faulkner said.

Providing the radio interoperability bridge at Wind Creek only scratches the surface of the truck's capabilities.

More important in times of crisis, the radio bridge can connect more than a dozen disparate communications systems, from state and local police to fire and rescue to military personnel. In addition, the Team truck provides Internet connectivity through its satellite uplink, along with live video feeds, and voice over IP and wireless network capabilities.

When power is lost, as it was throughout the Gulf states, the Team truck can idle for 30 hours, providing power to the communications equipment, before it needs to be refueled, or it can be hooked up to a 15-kilowatt generator that it tows.

And all of its capabilities can be run from a notebook PC.

Mobile command post

'These trucks can serve as a command post,' said Paul Ballance, a staff member with Quantum Research International Inc., the Huntsville company that puts together the communications components and modifies the trucks.

'If a building still is standing,' he said, 'we can set up outside and provide all of the communications. If they have still photos or video [to transmit], we can send it back. We have enough capability to establish situational awareness in remote areas.'

Alabama's Faulkner said the truck was able to get up and running in very short order.

'We had a meeting with all the emergency response people in the area, along with their communications vendor, and ... Quantum Research sent people,' he said. 'I'd say we had about an hour and a half's worth of discussion and came up with a workable solution. ... Probably within two hours of its arrival, we were testing it.'

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