The state and local grant money raised so far has been disappointing, but the merit of the project has convinced South Whitehall Township commissioners to commit $200,000 anyway.
Commissioners on Wednesday night voted to go ahead with a plan to partner with Upper Macungie Township in buying a mobile emergency command post, which can be used by police and firefighters in the event of a large-scale disaster or emergency.
The vote committed the township to paying $50,000 a year over the next four years to acquire the high-tech vehicle, currently estimated to cost about $450,000. Township Manager Jon Hammer said he would seek requests for proposals for financing the purchase in the next week.
A financial commitment of equal size from Upper Macungie Township would be necessary to make the purchase happen. Supervisors there are expected to discuss and possibly vote on the matter Thursday night, South Whitehall officials said.
The townships would also ultimately enter into a five-year agreement to jointly own and share the mobile unit. If Upper Macungie agrees, the townships may own their own mobile command vehicle by 2015.
Both townships had already committed $50,000 to the purchase this year in the hope of raising state and county grant money or even private contributions to pay for 75 percent of the purchase. But so far, all that has come from outside sources is a $30,000 grant from Lehigh County.
Jeff Kelly, South Whitehall’s emergency management coordinator, said several recent events and emergency drills have demonstrated the need for a mobile command unit in both communities.
The power outages after Hurricane Sandy, the school bus collision at the Upper Macungie Township building, the explosion at the Samuel Adams Brewery and even the hoax involving a possible shooter at Parkland High School have provided numerous lessons to emergency management personnel, Kelly said.
Even in drills, such as a recent “active shooter drill” at Dorney Park, demonstrated problems with communication and site control for emergency managers, Kelly said.
Commissioners Board President Christina Morgan said that she is often asked why the townships need their own mobile command unit when Lehigh County has one.
“It’s a matter of controlling our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If a major incident comes to the area and five or six municipalities ask for it, we may not get it.”
The county’s mobile command unit is also 20 years old, small, outdated and in need of upgrades, Kelly said.
“I think it’s something that we need right now,” said Commissioner Thomas J. Johns, who made a motion to go ahead with the project. The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Glenn Block absent.