By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County will take sole possession of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System bookmobile and use it for an emergency command center.
“Hopefully, this is something that we will never have to use, but it’s always good to be prepared,” said Clinton County Legislator Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac), who chairs the county’s Public Safety Committee.
The bookmobile was purchased by the Library System in 2005 for more than $200,000, with all three counties contributing. It toured the region weekly, bringing books to rural areas that are not served by libraries.
But the system had to shut down the service in 2011 when the cost of operating it became too much. With a 100-gallon diesel-fuel tank and the price per gallon more than $4, the system could no longer afford to keep the bookmobile running in the face of dwindling state aid.
The shutdown ended a North Country service that had lasted for 55 years.
Last year, the idea of converting the vehicle into an emergency command post was floated among the three counties. After much discussion, Essex and Franklin counties decided not to participate.
Clinton County will take possession of it this month.
“This will help coordinate emergency-response efforts and hopefully speed up responses if we have a major emergency,” Butler said.
It will probably cost the county between $1,500 and $4,000 per year to insure and maintain the vehicle, which will be stored in a building at Plattsburgh International Airport, he said.
The vehicle will be available for use in Essex and Franklin counties if needed, and Clinton County would seek reimbursement for the cost, probably through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Butler said.
Work by the staff of the county’s Emergency Services Department on converting the bus into a command center will begin soon.
Director Eric Day said he has assembled some radio equipment through grants and is seeking more to use for the new command center.
“The single biggest advantage of having something like this in a large-scale emergency is it gives us a single point of gathering for all the heads of emergency-responder departments,” he said.
“It puts us all in one vehicle so we can talk to each other and plan and coordinate with each unit. If something happened today, we would all be standing out in the street.”
Day said the command center would be mobilized for major incidents, such as large fires, aircraft disasters, mass shootings, an ice storm or other weather-related disasters.
“We will probably use it a couple times a year to train in so we are ready if we ever need it, he said.
The bookmobile will be outfitted with emergency lights and possibly a siren. The Adirondack-scene mural on the outside, by renowned Adirondack artist Nathan Farb, is expected to remain.
Day said he will try to keep the cost of renovating the vehicle down by using equipment he has already obtained or by purchasing new items with money from his budget, if possible.
“We’ll get to work on it soon, and it will be work in progress, but hopefully it will be ready to go sometime in the fall,” he said.
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