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Choosing a Mobile Command Vehicle
Author: Jane Gritz, President and CEO of EME
Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content,
Originally published in our April, 2006 issue.
by Jane Gritz, President and CEO of EME
Salt Lake City’s public safety departments have been prominent in the media the last several years. From Elizabeth Smart to Lori Hacking, the city has had its share of challenging incidents. Fortunately for its citizens, the city’s police and fire departments now have at their disposal a state-of-the-art Mobile Command Center. The city received delivery of the new vehicle from Emergency Management Equipment (EME) in the Spring of 2004.
Looking back, the public safety departments involved in the search for Elizabeth Smart could have only imagined having the mobile communications and surveillance capabilities that Salt Lake City now possesses. “Had we been able to bring the capabilities of the city’s new mobile command unit to bear, the Elizabeth Smart incident may have had a very different outcome,” said Lamont Nelson, director of fleet management for Salt Lake City
During the early morning hours of June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home. Almost daily media coverage captivated the world until she was found with her kidnappers on a surface street in the Salt Lake Valley on March 12, 2003.
The greater need for increased mobile command, control and surveillance capabilities led the Salt Lake City public safety departments to purchase a Mobile Command Vehicle from Emergency Management Equipment (EME). The 39-foot (gasoline engine) coach contains communications command equipment that permits on-scene dispatch command and control, portable radio and landline phone connectivity, computer e-mail and network access, and live video down-links to display broadcast television, as well as feeds from the 40-foot, mast-mounted, color infrared camera system.
In the Lori Hacking incident, initially a missing persons case involving over 3,000 volunteer searches, radio and phones from the Mobile Command Center became a vital part of the communications network coordinating the search efforts for Lori. Unfortunately, Lori’s body was found in the Salt Lake City landfill months later.
During intense searches such as these, The Mobile Command Center is fully capable of running the entire city from a public safety standpoint for a period of time if required. Most importantly, however, the vehicle delivers day-to-day support to the city’s police officers on the street, as well as incident support for the city’s fire department.
Prior to the new Mobile Command Center, Salt Lake City was using an old 25-foot converted trailer that had been in service for close to 10 years. When Nelson started working with the city back in 2002, he received lots of complaints that the trailer was difficult to operate. In fact, the vehicle often went unused during incidents by both police and fire departments because it was more of a hassle than a benefit.
Additionally, there seemed to be a concentrated increase in major events in Salt Lake City. The Elizabeth Smart and Lori Hacking incidents were the highest profile, however, there were numerous other events including major fires and police situations.
The need for up-to-date equipment and the increase in incidents made it clear that the city needed to invest in a new mobile command vehicle and that the police and fire departments should work together on a solution to protect the citizens of Salt Lake.
“Typically, police and fire departments like to have their own equipment, but in this case it was very clear to everyone involved that we needed to work together and move forward on funding, designing, and building a new mobile command vehicle that could be used as needed by both departments,” said Nelson.
Selecting a Vendor
After receiving a grant from Homeland Security for $265,000, Salt Lake City’s Fleet Management Department led the vendor selection process. Nelson and his team selected a set of potential specialty vehicle vendors based largely on peer recommendations and the group’s own research.
These manufacturers were then evaluated against a set of criteria that included cost, delivery time, prior experience, reputation, vehicle quality, customer service, willingness to work with the city, and most importantly customer references. Based on their findings, the team selected EME from the list of potential vendors and issued a sole source purchase request.
Often overlooked, Nelson also found that a commitment to training was a very important attribute in a vendor. While this wasn’t part of the original selection criteria, he would have made this a requirement after seeing just how important training is in the overall process. The police and fire departments determined the personnel who would be responsible for the operating the vehicle. This key group of approximately 12 people were trained by the vendor on the use of all the vehicle’s equipment including operation of the vehicle itself. In addition to developing training manuals that could be used as future reference guides, the city video taped the training sessions so that those joining the team later could be quickly and inexpensively trained.
Even before the manufacturer was selected, the police and fire departments, in addition to Fleet Management met to discuss how the vehicle would be used as well as each department’s specific requirements. Because there was a common need and sense of urgency, all of the agencies worked well together. This sense of camaraderie, teamwork and purpose was critical in developing a single set of vehicle design specifications that would meet the diverse needs of the city’s public safety departments, as well as other agencies that would be impacted by the use of the Mobile Command Center.
For example, the initial planning meetings led to the decision to incorporate independent dispatch and radio systems for the police and fire departments. This would ensure that the vehicle met the specific needs of each agency. ----Another important factor was having the manufacturer actually participate in the planning process. According to Nelson, this was critical because the vendor could provide input on what worked and what didn’t based on their experience, as well as insights they had gained by working with other customers from around the country.
Having the manufacturer close by also made it easy to drop in and see how the vehicle is progressing. Watching the plans come to life and being able to make real-time decisions about layout and equipment can save time and money since updates can be made while the vehicle is being built, when changes are less costly. For example, Nelson and his team found it necessary to modify the conference table and communication ports after seeing they weren’t going to have as much room in the conference area as they felt the needed.
The manufacturing process also drove home the need for proper up front planning to avoid costly and time consuming change orders. Because the city’s Fleet Management department had done their homework and involved all of the stake holders during the planning process, there were very few changes that needed to be made.
Ready to Roll
So that it’s always at the ready, the Mobile Command Center is kept at one of the city’s centrally located fire stations. When an incident occurs, the commander on scene determines if the vehicle is required. If so, the crew is alerted and responds to the scene with the vehicle. The crew then stays with the vehicle on site for as long as is required.
The vehicle is used for numerous public gatherings and events including the Salt Lake City Marathon, the Days of 47 Celebration and the bi-annual general conferences of the Mormon Church. These are major events for the city and draw hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants. The Mobile Command Center is used as the main command post for controlling traffic operations, response needs, and surveillance of crowds should any unwanted incidents occur.
The vehicle is also used regularly on the night-time deployments that involve SWAT and other special operations teams. The city’s police department can park the vehicle around the block of a target location and elevate the 40-foot camera mast to see over the surrounding buildings. Being able to survey activity around the inside a building, house, or other structure without the suspects’ knowledge provides a much safer environment for the responding officers.
Finally, the Mobile Command Center offers extra seating, shade and a refreshment center, creating a very workable atmosphere. Often incidents happen where these amenities are scarce. The unit can be made cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It can even light up the darkest street to aid response teams. All of these uses allow the police and fire departments to provide better public safety services to the citizens of Salt Lake City.
Because the process went so well from concept to reality, the Salt Lake City Mobile Command Center has been able to meet the city’s needs. It is also equipped to handle any unforeseeable incident in the future. “While no one can predict a major event like the Elizabeth Smart incident or a terrorist attack, it is good to know you’ve taken the steps necessary to be prepared,” concluded Nelson.
As Chief Executive Officer, Jane Gritz is responsible for defining and executing EME's vision for designing and building the world's best custom vehicles and emergency response consoles. Gritz began her career at EME (formerly STS) in sales before being promoted to Executive Vice President of Manufacturing and Director of Human Resources. Gritz has also worked as the administrator of Medics Ambulance Service in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and served as battalion chief for Broward County Emergency Medical Services. See: http://www.emeusa.com/