Johnson County Health Department acquires mobile command vehicle

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind - The Johnson County Health Department will soon take its services on the road after acquiring a former FBI vehicle to serve as the department’s new mobile command center.

The Department recently used a $57,000 grant from the State Health Department to purchase the large GMC box truck from the FBI in Albany, New York.

“As they would show up on scene, they would run their operations out of the truck,” said Health Department Director, Betsy Swearingen.

The truck will serve the same purpose for the health department to serve as a services hub or backup for first responders in a variety of different situations.  In addition to more routine operations, like mobile flu-shot clinics, Swearingen says the truck will prove valuable when responding to emergencies that prompt public health concerns.

“The truck is big enough to stock for any disaster or response that we might be requested for,” Swearingen said.  “Really, it just depends on what the emergency is and exactly where we fit into the response.”

For example, Swearingen says the truck would have been a valuable asset earlier this year when an employee tested positive for Hepatitis A at a Greenwood Walmart.  The response to that incident included having all store employees come to health department offices for testing an inoculation.

“It would have been nice to go on-site and to do that there, to offer that service on-site for those employees,” she said.  “So this should give us that capability in the future to be able to do that.”

The truck can also be put to use at any hazmat situation or natural disaster.  Neighborhood flooding commonly prompts concerns about contaminants in floodwater.  Having the mobile command vehicle stationed near a flooded neighborhood or park could reduce the time it takes to test flood water.

White River Township Fire Chief, Jeremy Pell agrees the mobile command vehicle will be a valuable asset in natural disaster situations.  He also says the health department vehicle will be helpful when a fire breaks out in a restaurant or any business that stores food.

“A fire that produces contaminants,” Pell said.  “Did it affect that food, and exactly how much and how do we mitigate that?”

“We get calls when restaurants catch on fire and the determination of whether or not they can open, or stay open,” Swearingen said.

Pell also believes the health department mobile command unit will prove useful at the scene of a large-scale firefight, like in May last year when crews spent hours fighting a blaze at the Meridian Oaks Apartments in Greenwood.  

“I would like to have had the Health Department there so that they could work with us and just provide a couple extra sets of hands to manage the rehab for the first responders,” Pell said.  “Those big incidents don’t come real frequently here, but they overwhelm us very quickly.”

Swearingen says the county is still working out specifics for when the mobile command center will be deployed.  Some of the former FBI equipment, such as storage and refrigeration, will be kept inside the truck.  Other equipment will be replaced.  The red and blue lights still need to be replaced, and a health department logo still needs to be painted on each side of the truck.

Once those alterations are made, health officials hope to have the vehicle working in the field shortly after the start of the new year.

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