It stretches 40 feet long and is equipped with five communications consoles that control 17 radio transceivers. It has an onboard computer server that is networked with eight laptop computers, and a 360-degree fixed camera on top of the vehicle allows its occupants to survey the surrounding area in all directions.
According to Hudson County government and law enforcement officials, it will keep local residents safer.
On May 19, Hudson County Executive Thomas DeGise and a host of county law officials viewed the new Hudson County emergency management communications and command vehicle parked at the county Office of Emergency Management headquarters located at the Meadowview office complex on County Avenue in Secaucus.
Critical county locale
DeGise spoke about the benefits the new $725,000 command vehicle will provide.
"We have been very, very aggressive in seeking Homeland Security funds from D.C.," he said. "Our location in Hudson County led us to be only a few miles from the biggest terrorist attack in the history of the world. Because of the very important bridges, tunnels, and rail lines in our county, we are very susceptible to the possible problems handled by Homeland Security. We need protection."
DeGise also noted unique demographic factors that helped the push for further Homeland Security projects.
"There are over 70 languages spoken in Hudson County,' he said. "If there is trouble in any part of the world, there is a real good chance that there are neighborhoods that have that ethnic group in it. This fact needs to be recognized."
There are already communications problems in Hudson County's linguistic Tower of Babel between different ethnic groups. Unfortunately, these problems have also lingered between the public safety agencies of the county's 12 towns. The new mobile command center, which is the first of its kind in New Jersey, effectively unifies and consolidates communications between the towns, allowing for faster and clearer information to be disseminated among the affected municipalities in case of an emergency.
Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio emphasized the concept of improved communications as the goal of the project.
"This vehicle was built so that the towns can communicate with each other, then the towns can talk to the county, state, Port Authority, and federal agencies immediately," he said. "One hand can then know what the other hand is doing in response to an emergency."
In many ways, the hands of Hudson County emergency responders were tied on Sept. 11, 2001. DeFazio remembered the events of that day and its affect on the decision to acquire the new command vehicle.
"Quite frankly, we've learned a lot of lessons from 9/11," he said. "We did the best we could under those circumstances. It could've been worse, but it could have been better."
Sergeant Joseph Richards of the Hudson County prosecutor's office explained how the equipment on board the vehicle would make communications better in the future. "The communication consoles here allow somebody talking over the phone to talk over the radio to all emergency personnel out in the field in all the towns," he said. "Before this, we never had a centralized communication center. Now we do."
As Hudson County Sheriff Joseph Cassidy looked back at his 40-plus years in law enforcement, he remembered other instances when communication between local law enforcement agencies was lacking.
"I go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s when we had riots in the area and it was difficult for neighboring towns to talk to each other and help each other out," he said. "All law enforcement agencies have to come together in a time of need."
Hudson County Office of Emergency Coordinator Jack Burns emphasized that the mobile command center could serve dual roles during such an emergency.
"It could be used as both a communication vehicle to keep information flowing between everywhere from Jersey City to East Newark," he said. "It could also serve as a unified command center where decisions could be made regarding what tactics or strategies should be used, depending on the situation."
DeGise wants to employ county government to avoid a regional repeat of the situation that resulted on Sept. 11.
"The county is a conduit for the federal and state homeland security money that comes across," he said. "Every individual town in Hudson County doesn't need something like this. But if one of our towns needs communication help, now they've got it. And on a regional basis, if anyone else needs our help, they've got it too."
On a lighter note, DeGise pointed out an additional possible use for the new mobile command center.
"Sheriff Cassidy wants to take it to Jets games," he said. "But we have to draw the line somewhere. He can only take it to Giants games. It's a safer crowd."
Mark J. Bonamo can be reached at email@example.com.