South Whitehall and Upper Macungie township officials agreed Wednesday night to seek state and local grants to help pay for a new $450,000 mobile emergency command post.
The high-tech vehicle would be equipped with the latest communications technology, including satellite, that could be used in large-scale emergencies that require unified command and control, said Jeff Kelly, emergency management coordinator for South Whitehall.
Officials from the two townships plan to pursue a Pennsylvania municipal assistance program grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development that would pay up to 75 percent of the total cost. They plan to garner support from state legislators and to seek funding from corporations and Lehigh County.
If no grant money is obtained, the townships would each have to pay $50,000 a year for five years to pay for the vehicle, said Tori Morgan, a South Whitehall Township commissioner.
"The grant money determines the direction of this project," Morgan said.
The command vehicle, which is estimated to cost between $425,000 and $450,000, would be used for emergencies in the South Whitehall, Upper Macungie and North Whitehall townships.
Emergency, police and fire officials and representatives from Dorney Park and Lehigh Valley Health Network discussed the merits of owning a mobile command.
At Dorney Park, often as many as 30,000 people attend the park on a Saturday or Sunday in July. "The potential is there for an incident to happen," said Dan Hall, Dorney Park's chief of patrol.
Several cited the need for an incident command unit during the massive emergency response to an intruder incident at Parkland High School last year. Kelly said emergency responders had to jerryrig a command post out of several of their Tahoe trucks that were set back-to-back and use two-way radios.
South Whitehall Police Lt. John Christman said the three SWAT teams at the high school were on three different radio channels. A unified command post "would strengthen communication," he said.
A health network representative said the command unit "is an incredible opportunity for you. It is going to pay for itself in dividends." Failure in emergency events, he said, usually occurs in communication, command or control.