Revving Up A Convention; Hot Rod Gadgets on $1.4M Mobile Command Station to Aid State Police

By Suzanne Smalley, The Boston Globe

The Massachusetts State Police yesterday unveiled a $1.4 million, 53-foot tractor-trailer that will serve as the agency''s mobile command station during the week of the Democratic National Convention.

The vehicle, financed primarily with Homeland Security grants and decorated in the distinctive electric and French blue colors of the State Police, has arrived just in time for the largest-scale security event in the history of the city and, arguably, the region.

The vehicle with its two plasma-screen televisions/VCRs, 30-plus radios, 18 phone lines, and 14 data lines with wireless capabilities allows for interagency communications and crisis management. The vehicle also features six dispatch stations that link to local, state, and federal frequencies, mirroring capabilities inside State Police headquarters in Framingham.

"The absolute key with this unit is the ability to have instant communication with other law enforcement agencies," said Colonel Thomas G. Robbins, superintendent of the State Police.

"Experience tells us what has been lacking in the past is the ability to talk to other officers across agencies in crisis situations."

The Massachusetts State Police joins Orange County, Calif., as the only law enforcement agencies in the country to own such a vehicle.

Poor interagency radio communications contributed to the execution of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a tragedy that was referred to more than once by Secretary of Public Safety Edward A. Flynn during yesterday''s press conference.

"I cannot understate the importance of one of the State Police''s most fundamental responsibilities: providing tactical support to our cities and towns when they need it most," Flynn said. "Certainly, the Democratic National Convention poses significant security and emergency management challenges for the city of Boston and the State Police will provide whatever assistance they can."

State Police officials declined to offer the specifics of the vehicle''s telecommunications capabilities, but Mike Mitchell of AK Specialty Vehicles, the tractor-trailer''s manufacturer, was explicit.

According to Mitchell, the vehicle includes a PBX telephone system, "which is independent of the grid and works off of a satellite," as well as a "42-foot telescoping mast with a remote-control camera so they can peer several miles away."

The vehicle also comes with a 100-kilowatt Kohler generator and 250 square feet of underbody storage to complement the 210-square-foot communications room and 300-square-foot command control room, Mitchell said.

About $1 million of the total cost of the vehicle came from a $32 million grant to the state from the Department of Homeland Security for equipment purchases. The balance came from the state''s supplemental budget.

Officials said yesterday that the mobile command center would be used to manage everything from weather emergencies to missing person investigations.

A State Police spokesman could not say where the money to pay for the command center''s upkeep would come from.

The vehicle features two kitchens and a slate blue conference room not unlike those at large-corporation headquarters.

Despite its spaciousness and amenities, the vehicle is most notable for the gizmos it holds, which boosts State Police communications capabilities.

Officials said yesterday that it is purely coincidental that the vehicle has arrived just a couple weeks before the Democratic National Convention begins, and several were candid about the importance of the unit in a time of crisis.

"All public safety bands UHF, VHF 800 megahertz, not just police departments, but fire departments, emergency services, federal law enforcement, homeland security you name it, we can talk to them," said Blair Sutherland, director of telecommunications for the State Police.

"We can export and import voices, video, and data," Sutherland said. "If a dirty bomb goes off in Framingham, we can put state and local agencies into this vehicle to manage the crisis."

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