TAMPA — When an 88-car train carrying ethanol into Port Tampa Bay derailed in July 2013, an ensuing fire — had one broken out — could have wiped out the nearby security office for the port. Having a mobile command unit on site could have avoided total disaster, said Mark Dubina, vice president of security for the port.
The port staff made a plea for just such a unit on Tuesday and the Tampa Port Authority Board approved the purchase.
The mobile command unit, similar to those deployed by SWAT teams and fire departments, will be used for such emergency situations, but mainly for damage assessment and communications, should a major hurricane hit the area.
The customized truck will cost $705,000, with a federal Port Security Grant paying for most of it and the port kicking in $176,250.
Emilio Salabarria, director of safety and training for the port, used several examples of past incidents where the truck could have been involved. He also mentioned an incident that took place in Jacksonville, where a cruise ship, trying to avoid Hurricane Sandy, had to come in to Jaxport on an emergency basis to off-load some 5,000 passengers. That port used its mobile command unit during that situation.
Local community activist Marilyn Smith dismissed the purchase as extravagant and Board member Carl Lendell questioned the need for such a specialized truck.
Still, the staff made a case and the board approved it.
“It will be really effective for communication, but also has room to have meetings and especially among people trying to manage an incident,” Dubina said prior to the meeting. Several other major ports around the country have similar mobile command units, he said.
Salabarria said the unit can also be used to control secured entries in to the port and to get port operations up and running quickly following a hurricane.
“It’s a best practice,” Port President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Anderson said. “You’re going to spend dollars sometimes for things that won’t be used immediately,” he said, but it is still a worthy purchase.
The port board also approved the purchase Tuesday of a new radar surveillance system that will allow port staff to identify boats in Tampa Bay that aren’t using the type of specialized recognition radar that large ships must use, by law.
For example, if a ship is coming in and several other boats are detected nearby, the new radar surveillance system would alert port officials to the identity of those boats. Dubina said it can also be used to identify any boats that may stray in to restricted areas of the port property.
The radar surveillance system will cost $772,905. A federal Port Security Grant will pay 75 percent of the cost with the port paying $193,226.