Sheriff shows off commmand center

It's the perfect mobile command center for a disaster-relief operation. Or for maintaining communications in the Muscogee County jail, should Columbus lose its radio towers. And if the local sheriff's office ever is summoned to work security at a college football game, it could throw one heck of a tailgate party with its new high-tech, 42-foot-long, $220,000 trailer.

Funded with money from drug seizures and phone charges to people accepting collect calls from jail inmates, the mobile communications center was on display Wednesday at Columbus' Fraternal Order of Police Lodge, where Sheriff Ralph Johnson described the concept born of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005.

He said Muscogee sheriff's officers who went to the Gulf Coast after the storm wound up in Pearl River, Miss., where the feds running the show wanted to know, "Does anyone know how to run a jail?" The Columbus folks did, and took over a jail with 300 inmates, some evacuated from other facilities. The jail had no phones, no computers, none of the usual communications apparatus. Some inmates already had escaped. Others were planning to, Johnson said.

That got officials here to thinking about what would happen if some catastrophe took out the county jail's communications system. When the Federal Emergency Management Agency made trailers available to local agencies, they bought this one for $2,000 — it was worth $39,000 — and got David and Tracey Reeves of Backroads RV to help custom-fit it with satellite communications that will work anywhere in the country, said Sheriff's Maj. Troy Culpepper.

Culpepper cited these command center amenities:

It has Internet, phones, four TVs, a Global Positioning System, two monitors for a external camera with which to survey the area. It has radios that will connect to almost any other radio system. An officer with another agency can take his own handheld radio, plug it into the command center's network and link the two communications systems together. It has its own generator and marine batteries and a rapid radio charger for handheld units. It has a dispatch station and a central command room with work stations for laptop computers. It has a toilet, a shower, a refrigerator, a microwave oven and two bunk beds.

Two teams of five people each have been training for four months to use it. Each team can work in 12-hour shifts to keep it running around the clock. Wherever it's hauled to, it can be set up, stabilized, tested and ready to run in two hours, Culpepper said.

It's unveiling was the culmination of two years' work to get the individual components together and custom fitted for law enforcement needs. The sheriff's office showed it off Wednesday for a gathering of the Chattahoochee Law Enforcement Coordinating Council, an association of area law enforcement agencies that includes local, state and federal officials.