Alaska Red Cross Gets Mobile Response Unit

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
The Red Cross of America’s Mobile Emergency Response Communications CenterPhoto by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

The Red Cross of Alaska unveiled a new Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center at their headquarters in Anchorage Tuesday afternoon.

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Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
A look at the inside of the Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“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.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
The Mobile Emergency Response Communications Center’s with its antenna extended. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“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.

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Daysha Eaton is the News Director at KBBI in Homer. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.