Command Vehicle Design: The Most Important Capability

A Command Vehicle is a vehicle used for rapid deployment of Command, Control and Communications to the most forward point of operations of a critical incident, disaster or extended emergency event. Command Vehicles are also used to

Mobile command vehicles are essential for establishing front line communications

provide specialized capabilities to deliver specific mission functions as close as possible to the main nerve center of a critical incident.

How Command Vehicles are used will vary with most being designed for critical incident and disaster response. Command Vehicles are used by government agencies, at all levels of government including Federal agencies and agencies at the local municipal level, but can also be used by Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), such as the Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations. Command Vehicles often include sophisticated systems designed to provide Command, Control and Communications capabilities for rapid decision making and are intended to be used for rapid deployment under extreme conditions

Today’s Mobile Command Vehicle Interiors can include emergency communications systems and extensive features including videoconferencing capabilities, conference room facilities and creature comforts including berthing, bathroom and kitchen facilities, and large generator systems to provide power for the systems it supports. These vehicles come on many different platforms, including large trucks, vans and large mobile RV platforms. The current trend is that they have become much larger over time, where now the gold standard has become large truck versions with very sophisticated features and systems.

Mobile Command Vehicles are highly customized and built to specification by integrators who install equipment and build the vehicle with features to each agencies’ specifications and mission need. As each vehicle is highly customized, this process can be lengthy as it can often take up to a year or longer for delivery from the time of order to the end customer. Generally, the larger the vehicle, the greater the options and features that are available. This often translates to higher up-front costs, often $1,000,000 or more, and significant life-cycle costs that can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to own, operate and maintain the vehicle. When attempting to decide whether a Mobile Command Center makes sense for your agency or community also see, “Is A Mobile Command Center Worth It?”.

Incident Command vehicles are the most common communication strategy used for disaster preparedness today. Among portable technologies to restore communications during a disaster, Command Vehicles are considered to be a top choice for those who desire back up and rapidly deployable emergency communications. Incident Command Vehicles became prevalent in the 1950s/1960s and were mainly used for mobile and deployable communications. The main goal was to provide back-up emergency communications and to place communications closer to the main pain point of critical incidents. When Command Vehicles were first used, emergency responders understood the importance of having rapidly deployable emergency communication systems above all other capabilities in order to have effective on scene Command and Control. They knew even back then that, back up emergency communications is the most important element needed for critical incident response.

Over time technology advanced with emergency communications systems becoming

Mobile command units are deployed in the aftermath of major disasters

much smaller, and other equipment and features began being added to these vehicles. In the last few decades, these vehicles have evolved into highly complex platforms with capabilities that go far beyond their original mission intention. This has greatly changed the interiors of Command Vehicles with many modern features being added over time. However, most of these additional features come at a significant cost and add little to actual mission capability. Given that earlier communications systems themselves were so bulky, emergency responders during earlier years didn’t have the option of outfitting their vehicles with anything other than the core back up emergency communications systems needed for critical incident response.

As a result, the main focal point of using these vehicles for delivering rapidly deployable communications has become diluted over time and today we now have vehicles that are highly complex, expensive, logistically heavy and are often unable to be deployed in the very first hours of a disaster or largescale critical incident. Today’s vehicles have become hyper versions of their predecessors with features that go far beyond the core function of rapidly deployable emergency communications. The main cost driver in modern day Command Vehicle design is no longer the necessary communications systems, but rather the vehicle itself and secondary ancillary features. This complexity has also greatly increased the need for significant power to run these additional systems, and highly trained staff to maintain and operate the vehicle which is completely contrary to what is most needed during disasters or critical incidents. This is no longer necessary since today there is another option as the core communications capability of a Mobile Command Vehicle can now be obtained at a much lower cost with a system that is ideal for rapid deployment. It’s easy to see how by comparing this other option.

Tactical Communications is the capability to deliver, logistically light, highly capable radio communications (VHF/UHF, HF or Satellite) to the main nerve center of a mission critical operation or critical incident, in near immediate time. Tactical Communications are

Nimble tactical communication systems are the hallmark of the military

portable systems that are best for rapidly shifting conditions under austere and extreme conditions and circumstances. The best example of how Tactical Communications are used is the military which has long understood that logistically light, rapidly deployable communications capability is what is most needed for critical command and control. When designing such systems, whether a vehicle is used at all is secondary to the communications capability. Many military tactical communications systems are portable and modular systems that can be set up almost anywhere in rapid time. These systems can be hand carried, placed in nearly any structure, tent, or placed in the back of a vehicle if needed.

You will rarely if ever see semi-truck or RV style command vehicles for “first on scene”, rapid deployment used by the military. Why? Because the military knows these types of vehicles are logistically heavy and are not the best choice for rapid deployment. When we carefully examine the main reason we have Command Vehicles, it’s to have near immediate rapidly deployable command communications capability. Rapidly getting communications capability to the main hot spot of a critical incident (within the first hours) is the core reason why these vehicles even exist. Yet, they are often unable to be

Large mobile command units are often difficult to transport to their destination

rapidly deployed in many circumstances and conditions.

The challenge we face today is that these vehicles have evolved to where they have become so large and complex that they are difficult to rapidly deploy, particularly when they are needed the most, such as during a large scale disaster.When deciding whether to invest or reinvest in a Mobile Command Vehicle we need to keep mind there is a well-established history (i.e., see post Hurricane Katrina and Maria after action reports), showing that these vehicles are often unable to be deployed in the first critical hours (First 72 Hours) of a disaster or critical incident

To summarize, the reasons why most command vehicles are difficult to rapidly deploy is they:

1. Require highly trained staff in order to deploy and operate them. This staff may have training gaps, may need a CDL and often must be recalled which creates delays.

2. Depend on working infrastructure such as roads and power, which is the very infrastructure that is often compromised during a critical incident.

3. Need significant logistical support (power, fuel, personnel) to be sustained for longer term operations, which makes them less than ideal for sustained operations.

4. Have a history of taking significant time to get them to the main nerve center of the critical incident and they can take significant time to set up to become fully operational.

Once we remove the heavy vehicle from the equation, we now have the ability to deliver

The ability to establish rapid, dependable emergency communications is the core capability of emergency communications

rapidly deployable emergency communications. But what type of communications? We begin by moving to logistically light and simpler communications systems that can operate with low power and are easy to operate during disaster conditions. The ideal rapidly deployable emergency communications system for a disaster or extended critical incident is a system with the following characteristics:

1. Does not require network connectivity or grid power in order to operate.

2. Does not require large amounts of power or bandwidth.

3. Is simple to set up and can be operated by nearly anyone.

4. Can be rapidly deployed within the First 72 Hours to the main nerve center of critical incident or disaster.

In short, the most effective emergency communication solution for near immediate critical incident or disaster response is a Tactical Command Center that can be rapidly deployed in the first hours of the event. The SemperComm® Portable Command Center is such a system and is the only system available on the market today that provides all the essential emergency communications capability of a Command Vehicle without the heavy logistics that these vehicles require. The SemperComm® Portable Command Center can be rapidly deployed in any situation you encounter and provides you the mission capability of a Command Vehicle in a smaller tactically nimble, portable package.

About SemperComm® (“Always Communications”)- Learn more about our patented Portable Command Center.

SemperComm® Systems is an Emergency Management consulting firm that provides emergency management services and emergency communications products. Learn more about how SemperComm® can meet your needs.

Copyright 2012 by SemperComm