Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Agency is closer to having a mobile command center after receiving a bus from Mississippi State University.
MSU donated the bus — a 24-passenger Goshen Coach that was in service from 1996-2018 — on Friday.
Emergency Management Director Kristen Campanella said the county has been in discussions with the university to get the vehicle for about a year. With the bus in hand, Campanella said the management plans to convert it into a mobile command center, which could serve as a workspace for events ranging from storm responses to search and rescue operations.
“It can be used for anything that would require them to be on scene and work,” she said. “Now, basically, your on-scene command is on the hood of a truck and on your tailgate. This would let them come in out of the elements and have a safe place to work.
“I’m hoping we’ll have the technology for wireless internet and everything so they won’t have to go back into the office and send in anything,” she added. “Everything can be self-sustained here.”
Campanella said she hopes to add cellular signal boosting capability to the bus for operations in areas of the county with poor signal reception.
With the bus in hand, Campanella said the next steps will involve determining a cost to turn the bus from a passenger vehicle to a mobile command center. That will take some time, and depending on what funding is available — whether through grants or from the county board of supervisors — the work may be done in phases, she said.
However, getting the bus for free from the university is a major step. Campanella said buying a new bus with all the equipment already installed can cost up to $200,000.
“It’s going to be a process, but this is a big part of it,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have MSU here.”
MSU Director of Parking and Transit Services Jeremiah Dumas said he’s happy to see the bus donated to OCEMA. He said the buses are robust, and MSU still maintains several from the same year in its fleet.
“It’s been a very durable, well-built bus for us that’s been in service for 22 years,” he said. “It’s nice to know it’s still got some useful life to it and it will be put to good use.”
MSU President Mark Keenum said the university is always looking for ways to collaborate with different facets of the community. This donation is just one way to do that.
“What we’re doing today is to support the emergency management agency here in the community and provide them an asset that I think will be very helpful for them in serving the needs of our community,” Keenum said. “This is another example of us working to support the citizens in our community and that’s something we take great pride in.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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