DOUBLE SPRINGS - It has happened before, and it will unfortunately happen again: hikers will get lost either in the Bankhead National Forest or the Sipsey Wilderness Area. It happens every year here.
The Winston County Sheriff’s Office hopes to combat the terrain, find the lost hikers and save lives with new sophisticated technology purchased with a recent Resource Conservation and Development grant in the amount of $4,500. Using the money, sheriff’s office officials overhauled a camper previously purchased for use as a mobile command center. It utilizes an antenna as a repeater tower and boosts cell phone reception coverage, allowing the mobile command center to reach deputies on the ground in the search and rescue effort, as well as dispatch.
“We are proud to receive this grant,” Winston County Sheriff Horace Moore stated. “It will greatly improve our efforts, as well as the safety of our personnel who may have to be deployed into the Bankhead National Forest or anywhere else in Winston County that has little to no cell phone service.”
“Over the past several years, we’ve had incidents where people get lost in the Bankhead National Forest,” Brent Porter, director of work release, stated. “Once we’re (on scene), we have no communications.”
Porter mentioned that digital radios, analog radios nor cell phones work in certain areas of the forest.
“(With the grant) we were able to finish up our command center and put in a repeater tower that is actually on the command center. Now we can communicate with dispatch and the people on foot in the woods looking for the missing person. It should make a big difference,” Porter said.
The grant was received in November, according to Porter. Also purchased were a Dell laptop, Garmin GPS units, two-way radios and a cell phone booster. With the GPS units, search parties can be tracked while on a search.
There is yet another benefit to the command center.
“If we have someone lost in the woods and if their cell phone is still working, it should pick up their signal and be able to transmit it to a cell phone tower so they can call,” Porter added.
If a call comes in to dispatch, the command center can be ready for deployment within 45 minutes, Porter said.
“It’s easy to set up. Basically, I’ll stick the tower on the side of it, turn on the generator and it’s ready to go. If we do have to use it, we’ll have it ready to go.”
Lauranne James, the executive director of the Regional Conservation & Development County, was happy that her organization was able to provide the funding for this project.
“This was a community development grant Northwest RC&D Council provided the funding for with the support of Senator Garlan Gudger and Representative Tim Wadsworth. The Winston County Sheriff’s Office expressed the need to the Winston County Commission and by working together with the Northwest RC&D Council and the state legislators they were able to complete the project with the RC&D grant,” James said.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.