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Multimedia Center on Wheels

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A North Carolina system's new 40-foot mobile communications vehicle can link healthcare, government, and volunteer organizations during a disaster.

WakeMed Health & Hospitals recently added a new vehicle to its emergency response fleet. But it is anything but a standard ambulance.

The vehicle is 40 feet long and is equipped with 10 computers, wireless Internet, four satellite televisions, five surveillance cameras, six work areas, a conference room, a kitchen, and the capability to support 254 phones. WakeMed calls it the Mobile Communications and Coordination Center, or MC3 for short.

"The MC3 is designed to basically allow you command of communications over large geographic areas, of multiple frequencies, an unlimited number of agencies and healthcare providers, and really have global communications from wherever that vehicle is set up," says Bill Atkinson, PhD, the Raleigh, NC, health system's president and CEO.

The 870-licensed-bed health system decided to develop the mobile communications unit after examining experiences of personnel sent to help in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Atkinson says one of the major problems aid workers faced was the inability to tie together communication between the government, healthcare workers, and volunteer organizations. The MC3 is WakeMed's solution.

"North Carolina is one of those frequent states to deal with hurricanes, and I think in North Carolina it's not a question of will it be used, it's simply a matter of when will it be used," Atkinson says.

But WakeMed's plans for the MC3 aren't limited to hurricane season. Government officials will be able to schedule the vehicle in advance for public events like state fairs and sporting events. Atkinson says he expects the MC3 to be deployed a couple times each month.

Costing just over $1 million in total, the MC3 was paid for partially by private donors and commercial sponsors like group purchasing organization VHA, Cisco, IBM, and MedLine. Atkinson says WakeMed is still receiving donations.

Although the vehicle hasn't been used yet other than for some local disaster drills, it has been in an active state since early September.

"It can go any time, any place if something happens today and it was officially requested by the appropriate governmental agency," Atkinson says. "Should we get an official request for our teams or that vehicle, we would send it today."

—Marianne Aiello

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