MORRIS – The next time Grundy County is hit with a tornado, a 20-year flood, a historic blizzard or any other natural disaster, it won't need to borrow a mobile command center.
During numerous natural disasters throughout the years, Grundy County has borrowed Will County's mobile command unit, which was significantly larger and better equipped than Grundy's.
But recently, the county bought a $153,000 command unit, which is equipped to aid emergency responders in all manner of crisis situations.
Grundy's previous unit was a repurposed ambulance donated to the county by Coal City. According to officials, the EMS vehicle was too small for on-site operations, barely large enough to fit four people.
"You had no space for people and little room for equipment," Grundy County Emergency Director Joe Schroeder said. "It was just very limited."
The new command unit is essentially a traveling emergency operations center, allowing officials, volunteers, law enforcement, dispatchers and other key decision makers to work on the scene of a major disaster.
The new command vehicle is equipped with computers, radio phones, a global information mapping system, a radio tower and a small conference space.
Among other improvements, officials can now monitor a disaster area with live video and stream it to officials working in the Emergency Operations Center back at the Grundy County Administration Building.
"It helps if they know exactly what you're looking at," Schroeder said. "We used to do this with an iPad and Skype, but now we have equipment to take care of it."
Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said he and other officials pressed for a new vehicle when they realized the county had borrowed Will County's on almost 20 separate occasions, including during last year's tornado and flood.
"The only reason we got it during those times is because Will County didn't have a disaster of their own to use it at," Severson said. "We really needed something of our own."
The county commissioned Sirchie Vehicle Division of New Jersey to build the customized vehicle, which was designed with input from the Grundy County Field Support Unit.
The support unit is comprised of officials from the Grundy County Sheriff's Department, EMA and the Emergency Telephone System Board.
Natural disasters aside, Sheriff Kevin Callahan said the vehicle can be taken to any crisis situation where law enforcement may need a mobile command center.
"If we ever have a serious crime or situation where we may need to relocate or evacuate people, it would really come in handy," Callahan said. "If we wanted to staff it with a telecommunicator during a major event, it has those capabilities, too."
Severson said the command unit is something he's wanted for the county since he became county board chairman.
"Down the road, if it saves even one life, it will have been worth it," he said.