By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
LISBON -- Columbiana County Sheriff David Smith announced Friday the acquisition of a new specially equipped communications vehicle to serve five counties, including Columbiana and Mahoning.
The large black truck is the fourth of 11 to be distributed throughout the state through a joint project between the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
The vehicles will be used during large-scale emergencies to connect communications from different agencies on the same bandwidth for the time a vehicle is in operation.
Each $440,000 truck is paid for by federal homeland security funding and includes up-to-date communications equipment, such as a peer-to-peer wireless network, voice communication on all public safety frequencies, mounted and hand-held radios and patching equipment.
The trucks also have weather monitoring equipment, emergency scene lighting equipment, a day and night camera, fax capabilities and a high-speed data network.
Despite the high levels of technology, the largest single expense is the truck itself, said C.J. Couch, a spokesman for the Ohio EMA.
Although the vehicles are not intended for daily use, dispatchers and deputies from the sheriff's office will use it regularly to train for major disasters or terror attacks, Smith said.
During its down time, Columbiana's vehicle will be stored at a donated facility in the Calcutta area, he said. The only cost to the county was wages paid while dispatchers and deputies were trained by the state to use the vehicles.
Project directors are strategically placing the eleven trucks at county sheriffs' offices throughout Ohio to be within 50 miles of 97 percent of the state's population. With that range, a truck should be able to reach a site and set up communications at any major disaster in Ohio within an hour and a half.
The Columbiana truck will service Carroll, Columbiana, Jefferson, Mahoning and Stark counties.
Project leaders chose Columbiana County because of its geographic location and proximity to the Beaver Valley nuclear plant, said ODPS Director Ken Morckel.
"This marks when homeland security comes to Columbiana County," he said.
The vehicles, which are expected to last about 20 years, will improve the ability of emergency response agencies to communicate with each other, the primary cause of past failures during emergency responses throughout the state, Morckel said.
The communication vehicle program is part of the state's Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention, along with a data-sharing program led by the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.