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5th Annual California Mobile Command Center Rally a Success in Sacramento
Author: Randall D. Larson
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Story and Photos by Randall D. Larson
The Fifth Annual California Mobile Command Center Rally took place on May 8th in Sacramento. With 30 state-of-the-art mobile command and communication centers of all shapes and sizes, from law enforcement, fire, EMS, military, utility companies and other support agencies, this year’s open-vehicle display focused on interoperability, networking, and the interactive capabilities of diverse disciplines in major incident command and coordination.
Held at the Sacramento Regional Fire Training Academy, which generously donated parking and classroom space, the event brought the largest response yet of local, state and federal vehicles, displaying their mobile communications centers, sharing innovations they have developed, and learning from each other’s technological and operational capabilities how they can work together during large scale vents.
Nearly a year’s worth of planning from a team made up of members of the California Fire Chief’s Association, the California Emergency Management Agency, and the Sacramento Regional Fire Training Academy resulted in a combination of vehicle demonstrations, a full schedule of classes on interoperability, mobile networking, radio cache management, information sharing, and joint operations. In partnership with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), Nick Brown, Statewide Interoperability Coordinator for the state of Georgia, attended and served as Safety Officer while evaluating the California Rally in preparation for holding GEMA's own Mobile Communications Vehicle Rally later the same month.
Public safety agencies from as far away as Monterey County, Kern County, and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department brought their mobile command units to display and learn from their public safety and other cooperative colleagues. Brand new command vehicles just recently put in service, including the California Highway Patrol’s Mobile Consolidated Command Center and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Regional Mobile Command Center were on display. Proving that bigger isn’t always necessary for incident command and communications, smaller vehicles such as the CHP’s SUV-mounted communications module, the California EMA’s Mobile Interoperability Gateway Unit, and smaller comm units from Placer and San Mateo Counties provided capabilities equal to some of the larger units from Sutter, Sonoma, Solano, and Sacramento counties. Twin command units from the Palo Alto Police and Sunnyvale Dept of Public Safety demonstrated how units could be paired up to coordinate command and interoperable communications functions on an incident.
This year’s sponsors included specialty vehicle manufacturer LDV, 9-1-1 and command center seating specialist Chair Pros, portable power system provider Met Air, and 9-1-1 Magazine. The Northern California Chapter of APCO again participated with a booth and promotional support, and volunteers from California EMA Telecommunications, the Sacramento Regional Fire Training Academy, and the California Fire Chiefs Association provided invaluable personnel and logistical support in pulling off this year's Rally - as did food vendor Coast to Coast Catering of Sacramento (whose vans were arguably the most important units on the site when it came to lunch time!)
The invaluable cooperation of vendors who brought out their mobile tools and demonstration units – not to hawk a sales pitch but to demonstrate cooperation and capability services to aid the public safety community – was again an important part of what the Rally wanted to share among its diverse community of emergency responders and supporters. Vendors like IP Access, HF-NVIS, and Public Safety Innovation provided informational booths and/or classes and interactive demos of connectivity and interoperability. Verizon Wireless brought out their Critical Response Unit to demonstrate their capabilities to restore wireless communications infrastructure, and utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric displayed a pair of mobile command units they use to support public safety during local emergencies and disasters.
Recognizing that large scale event management and support requires more than just local public safety responders, the Rally continued to include state agencies like Cal-Trans, the California Department of Water Resources, California EMS Authority, and the American Red Cross. Military resources on display ranged from the massive 53’ Enhanced Mobile Incident Command Post from the US Coast Guard to the small, Humvee-mounted IC4U (Incident Commander’s Command, Control & Communications Unit). The US Army Corps of Engineers Emergency Operations Command & Control Vehicle as well as the Coast Guard’s Mobile Communications Vehicle with its compact assortment of full spectrum HF, VHF, UHF, MilSatcom Voice, Data, VOIP, and ROIP communications capabilities and connectivity was also on hand to demonstrate the resources these military agencies can bring to assist local public safety responders.
A highlight of the Rally was “Interop Challenge 2013,” a hands-on interoperability exercise developed and hosted by the California EMA’s Auxiliary Communications Service. Participants were provided with a multi-agency communications challenge to create and implement a comm plan - working with members of other teams in another agency’s mobile comm vehicle. The goal was to remind participants that interoperability is as much about team-work as it is tech-work. This kind of exercise was found to be especially valuable for those personnel assigned to drive the mobile command units to events but who were unfamiliar with operating the unit, showing that training in setting up and operating these mobile command units was significant for all personal assigned to these units.
As the California Mobile Command Center Rally continues to grow it’s also begun partnering with other states who are recognizing the value of developing this kind of eyes-open, hands-on, antennas-up, inter-connectivity exercise. We look forward to learning from the experiences and exercises of others, sharing and networking with our fellow training partners elsewhere, as these unique events continue to provide information, inspiration, and instigation for putting these invaluable mobile tools for command, coordination, and communications to the best use for public service in times of emergency and disaster.
9-1-1 magazine editor Randall D. Larson retired after 25 years in public safety communications, most spent as a senior dispatcher and field communications director for the San Jose (Calif.) Fire Department. A former communications specialist on FEMA US&R Task Force 3 (CA-TF3) and a field communications trainer for the California Fire Chiefs Association and First Contact 9-1-1 LLC, Larson founded the California MCC Rally in 2009 and has since served as Plans Section Chief for the subsequent Rallies.