One reporter’s take on the Mobile Command Vehicle

“Sheriff’s Department multiple services on display during mock drill”
By Lauren DeFilippo of the Bridgewater Independent
May 27, 2008

From the outside, the mobile communications vehicle looks like a somewhat ordinary truck with a sheriff’s department logo emblazoned on each side.

Inside, however, it’s a two-room, multi-media command post that has Internet, telephone and fax capabilities in addition to monitoring all of the county’s radio frequencies and video uplinks.

“You find this type of vehicle common now,” Lt. Scott Billings of the Communications Division said.

The vehicle responds to roughly 34 incidents a year, half of which are actual incidents.

The department has had the mobile communication center for five years. It has been used during major search and hazardous material incidents, and all three-alarm fires in the county.

What the vehicle allows for is a central spot for commanding officers to meet and strategize, as well as provide for interoperability between a variety of responding agencies, since each police and fire department uses its own radio frequency.

The vehicle’s video capabilities, which come from external cameras as well as a live feed from a FLIR video system on State Police helicopters, allow officials to view what’s going on without putting incident command in harm’s way, Billings said.

That feature is particularly useful when responding to hazardous material incidents, he said.

In the event of extreme weather conditions, the vehicle also allows commanding officers to call the shots in a climate-controlled location.

The department also has a main communication center at headquarters. From there, personnel can monitor local public safety frequencies and assign mutual aid.

Billings likened it to the control tower at an airport.

In terms of mutual aid, each town in the county submits a card to the sheriff’s department that assigns other agencies to specific jobs in the event of an emergency. In the case of a four-alarm fire, it is the sheriff’s department that tells which towns to report where.

That centralized coordination also frees up local dispatchers to do other things, like respond to other calls for assistance, rather than calling out to other communities, Billings said.

Those cards are based on geography and can stay in effect for several years, he said, adding that individual chiefs may update their cards based on equipment or staffing changes.

The sheriff’s department is also responsible for coordinating and prioritizing patients as they travel from the scene of an emergency to area hospitals.