The Red Cross of Alaska unveiled a new Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center at their headquarters in Anchorage Tuesday afternoon.
“When the satellite dish is up and fully operational, it will allow them to link into a satellite which will give them Internet access to the Lower 48 or the state of Alaska,” Michael O’Keefe, with the American Red Cross of Alaska, said. “And that goes to this controller system right here.”
He’s standing at the back of what resembles a small U-Haul trailer pointing to a bunch of electronics held inside. It’s the organization’s new Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center, or MERCC for short.
The MERCC unit looks like a U-Haul trailer with a big antenna and a satellite dish sticking out of the top.
Laura Spano is a spokesperson for the Red Cross. She says the The MERCC can be put onto a plane and sent to rural Alaska when disaster strikes.
“Say we’re up, you know Western Alaska; there’s a remote village that’s hit by an earthquake or a winter storm.: Spano said. “We’ll be able to either deploy the entire communications center or we can send these flyaway kits that hold a satellite phone, a cell phone, mifi so a mobile Internet. In case towers are open, it has a laptop.”
The trailer unit can accommodate 48 hard-line Internet connections and broadcast Wi-Fi for up to a quarter mile. It runs on a diesel generator. The MERRC unit, including the flyaway kits cost about $182,000. It was paid for by a 2012 $300,000 grant from the state of Alaska.
The remainder of the money goes toward training, maintenance and staff over site.
About six Red Cross volunteers are trained to operate the MERCC so far, and more are scheduled to be trained this year.