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Salt Lake unveils mobile command center

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Salt Lake City's police and fire departments unveiled a shiny new toy Friday — a state-of-the-art mobile command center that will increase the efficacy of their responses to major public safety events within the city.

The center, a motor home outfitted with computers, a communications system, video cameras and recorders, television screens, as well as infrared cameras that can detect heat at night, is essentially a mobile public safety headquarters from which public safety entities can operate, including setting up a dispatch center. Such capabilities are critical in times of public safety disasters such as terrorist acts, natural disasters, or other major crime events, police and fire officials said.

"If for some reason the police department were to be closed down, we could operate from here," Salt Lake City police detective Jay Rhoades said.

The center will vastly improve the way in which police and fire officials can direct their responses to major events in that it will bring the tools for crafting that response directly to the scene.

"During the (August 1999) tornado, for example, we were all just standing around," fire department spokesman Scott Frietag said. "We didn't have a central, safe location to work from."

A central command unit also will improve communications between police, fire, public utilities and political entities and quicken the response to an incident, Rhoades said. For example, after the June 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart, it took police nearly four hours to prepare, copy and distribute the first "missing person" flier on the then-15-year-old Federal Heights girl, because information had to be collected, prepared and fliers produced in different locations.

The mobile command center cuts that time to "maybe an hour," Rhoades said.

City police and fire departments spent three years working toward the purchase and design of the mobile unit. The $280,000 center was paid for through a federal Homeland Security grant administered through the Utah Department of Public Safety, Rhoades said.

E-mail: jdobner@desnews.com