Gold lettering and decals smack the eyes when it drives by. Then there’s the sheer size of the Mobile Operations Center, the newest addition to the Del Norte Search and Rescue team.
The 37-foot-long former bloodmobile has been gutted and fitted with new flooring, couches that fold into beds, desks, dry-erase boards serving as the interior walls, and cabinets — a lot of them. There is also a radio communications room in the back, laptops, a printer and a 39-inch television.
The radio communications room has the capability to communicate with any agency in the county and, depending on its location, agencies in Humboldt or Curry counties might be within reach as well.
Some SAR team members have been trained in radio communications procedures to increase the amount of people who can use the equipment, said SAR Coordinator Terry McNamara.
The MOC will respond to law enforcement calls, search missions and natural disasters in the county, he said.
“If another agency calls for this, Search and Rescue is going to be there to support,” said McNamara.
The MOC provides directors of agencies responding to an emergency a place to congregate, in addition to being a communications hub, said sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey.
A 12,000-watt generator gives the MOC the capability to power itself in isolated areas or in the event of a major disaster that knocks out power grids. It also has the capability to have all 911 calls routed to its telephone system.
“The reality is we have to be self-sufficient,” said Athey. “The feds and state aren’t going to be here overnight if something occurs.”
The rig is a major upgrade from the converted 1982 transit bus SAR used as its main mobile center.
“If it’s raining outside— or even if it’s not — it’s a place to work,” said McNamara.
The outside of the MOC will be flush with flood lights as well as sirens, “so I have an ‘everybody get out of the way’ button,” said McNamara.
Outfitted with a 57,600-mile-old 1997 Volvo diesel engine, the vehicle value was estimated at $155,000, but after three years of searching, Sheriff Dean Wilson was able to acquire it at no local cost through a procurement program offered to federal, state and local law agencies in 2010.
Save for the costs of new tires and sending McNamara down to Orange County to retrieve it, the rest of the money to renovate the rig came from donations, Athey said. Elk Valley Rancheria donated $10,000, Castle Rock Countertops & Construction provided cabinetry and an Office of Emergency Services grant funded the $21,000 radio system and
The labor was done by the SAR volunteers.
Now, the SAR team just needs to figure out how to acquire material to build a pole barn to house the MOC and its other equipment.
“We have to get it a house before winter,” said Athey.
The county would likely donate an area near the SAR’s new fixed command center close to juvenile hall, if a barn can be built, Athey said.
The fixed command center is located at the old mental health building on Williams Drive. The building was vacated after an asbestos problem, but it had a newer roof. SAR acquired it, renovated it and it now has three offices, a conference room, radio room, sleeping area for out-of-town emergency responders and a kitchen. SAR has been using it for about two years.
“Terry and his crew have done a lot,” said Athey.