Dallas County EMA displays muscle

Published 8:10 pm Monday, March 23, 2009

With an assist from the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department, the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency displayed Monday three of the newest tools at their disposal — a crime scene response vehicle, a SWAT-worthy BearCat vehicle and a mobile command center — at the Dallas County Courthouse.

Tuscaloosa is the homeland security equipment hub for Region 3. According to Sgt. Andy Norris of the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department, the region covers all of West Alabama, including Selma and Dallas County. Monday’s display hammered home the point that the vehicles are available to other agencies within the region.

“We’re bringing it around to all the counties in our region to show it and let law enforcement see it and get familiarized with it, and let them know it is there if the occasion ever rises to where we need to respond with it,” said Norris.

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The crime scene response vehicle is the newest piece of Region 3’s response arsenal. It contains a number of kits that cover an investigator’s wide range of needs, from finger print collection to detection of trace metals and gun primer.

“It has everything you could need to process a major crime scene,” said Michael Hall, a crime scene investigator with the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department.

The mobile command center is equally worthy of its title. It houses a number of computers capable of communication with other police departments, internet access, frequencies for all Region 3 agencies, satellite television to follow the news and a mounted camera capable of monitoring the immediate area or action at a distance.

“In Alabama, we’re probably going to be most affected by a natural disaster more than a man-made disaster,” said Norris.

The BearCat is a transfer from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. With gun turrets, run-flat tires, cameras and armor, it is equipped for hostile environments.

“I think it’s important for our law enforcement to know what is available to them,” said Dallas County EMA Interim Director Rhonda Abbott. “It’s very important for them to know their resources, know where they are and be able to judge how long it’ll take these resources to get in here once they request them.”

Time will be one of the most important factors in response time. With 90 miles separating Tuscaloosa and Selma, there is a chance that the vehicles would not arrive in time to assist with an emergency. EMA officials and Norris believe that Montgomery’s emergency response vehicles could be dispatched until the Region 3 vehicles arrive.