Mobile Command Center: Purpose and Function

Updated: Jun 2

A Mobile Command Center is a vehicle used for emergency and critical incident

Mobile Command Centers allow for accurate forward communications and command

response. These vehicles are used by nearly every agency and type including local public safety, law enforcement, at the Federal, State, county and local levels. A Mobile Command Center can vary in its design with some having broad mission capabilities and others that are designed for a very specific mission and function.

The main goal of a Mobile Command Center is to be able to rapidly deploy critical Command, Control and Communications as close as possible to the critical nerve centers of critical incidents or emergency events. These vehicles also serve other functions such as providing back-up emergency communications during extraordinary circumstances such as an extended emergency or disaster.

Mobile Command capability is the primary mission enabler that gives first responders the ability to manage operational outcomes during critical incidents. First responders, emergency managers and law enforcement know that having the capability to push the main point of Command as close as possible to the critical nerve center of an incident allows for better and more rapid decisions to affect a proper response. First responders know that time is the enemy in all response situations and that faster and more accurate decisions leads to better operational outcomes. Knowing exactly what is going on at the main nerve center of a disaster event is key for managing scarce resources that are already highly stressed during critical incidents. Ensuring that response resources are in the most needed places, at the right time, allows for the most positive operational outcomes and reduces the risk of cascading events. Cascading events are the secondary negative impacts that can greatly magnify and worsen the outcomes beyond the main critical incident itself. Reducing and managing cascading events is a core goal of proper critical incident response.

When considering the critical elements of Mobile Command, what we are really describing is rapidly deployable Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence

Mobile command is a critical element of effective disaster response.

(C3I) to the main pain points of a critical incident. C3I, and its impact to critical decision making, is a well understood concept by the military and over time has become better understood in the public safety arena. The Intelligence/Information or (I) element of C3I is about having the most accurate “Command Picture” about the incident and the actual conditions in real time. It is well understood in disaster management that gaps in Situational Awareness are the primary cause of cascading events which often worsen the effects of a disaster. The most important element to ensure effective mobile command is to have the ability to rapidly deploy communications capability to the most critical nerve centers within the critical First 72 Hours of a disaster or critical incident.

Having proper Command Communications at the most critical nerve centers of a critical incident is the essence of what a Mobile Command Center is really all about. Effective Command Communications is the mission enabler that drives all other outcomes in a disaster or critical incident. Without proper communications, Actionable Information/Intelligence (AI) is unattainable and the opportunities for positively effecting outcomes become greatly diminished, with opportunities for minimizing the impact of the incident often being lost altogether. In executing a proper response and recovery, the bottom line is if we do not have proper Command Communications during a critical incident, then little else will really matter.

This is because when Situational Awareness is lost or compromised, cascading events nearly always occur. This is most critical when we are considering how Mobile

Large mobile command vehicles lack the ability to reach many critical destinations

Command Centers are deployed. Mobile Command Centers have evolved far beyond the essentials of what these vehicles were ever intended to be, as modern-day Command Vehicles now have many features beyond communications. The extra features that many of these vehicles contain (which includes items like videoconferencing, and creature comforts to name a few) have shifted the focus away from the core function of what is truly needed during extended emergency situations. Effective Command Communications is the main purpose of these vehicles, plain and simple. All the other extra features that a Mobile Command Center may offer are inconsequential to the main reason we invest in these vehicles, as these features add little to the primary mission need, while also greatly driving up the cost.

The impact of this migration away from communications being the main purpose of these vehicles is quite substantial. Many after action reports have identified that these vehicles are often too big to be rapidly deployed during critical incidents rapidly enough to be able to establish critical Command and Control in the early hours of disasters. The lack of ability to establish early effective Command and Control is the primary reason cited for the cascading events that occurred during these disasters. There are many reasons why these vehicles are not rapidly deployable, but the main reason is these vehicles are highly dependent on infrastructure to be functioning in order to provide operational value. The paradox is that the very infrastructure that these vehicles depend on in order to be rapidly deployed is often what is most compromised in the situations these vehicles are meant to be deployed in.

Given that Command Communications is the main purpose of a Mobile Command Center, having effective Emergency Radio Communications is the enabler of that capability during a critical incident. For many reasons, past history has shown that in order to have effective Emergency Radio Communication during a disaster or critical incident we need to avoid highly complex systems for our back up communications. Toward that objective, as a principle we should exclude logistically heavy or complex

Establishing effective emergency communications is the primary goal of a mobile command center.

communications systems that require significant power and resources to operate during disaster conditions. While this may seem obvious on the surface, when we look at our emergency communications systems on a national level, and what has happened to them during past disasters, it becomes apparent that most of our emergency communications systems lack resiliency.

Effective deployable Emergency Radio Communications, should also exclude systems that are interdependent on other systems in order to function. When we enter the world of current day Mobile Command Centers, that is exactly what most of them have become. Most Mobile Command Vehicles are highly complex, logistically heavy platforms that require large amounts of power and resources that are highly dependent on working infrastructure to perform their mission. If we desire to have more reliable emergency communications in a disaster or extended critical incident, we need to move away from our overdependence on these types of systems as our main strategy while also keeping the below in mind:

In general, we should avoid:

1. Any system that needs or includes heavy network connectivity in order to operate.

2. Any system that requires large amounts of bandwidth such as videoconferencing, or uses heavy data.

3. Any system that depends on the internet, cellular systems, or communications that are heavily dependent on repeaters and towers alone.

4. Any system that depends on any form of “technical support” or personnel to set up. Such systems should be ruled out as these systems are complex and are more prone to failure.

While counterintuitive, the most effective and reliable systems for most critical incidents are basic two-way radio voice communications for Command and Control of responder resources. These are the only systems that can truly be counted in disaster response to establish communications up and down the chain of command and to carry out a proper response and recovery. In the realm of Disaster Emergency Communications, its best to remember that the simplest systems usually work, and that the more complex systems fail. The more links in the chain that are needed in order for the system to function the more likely the system is to break down. As a result, the most resilient and reliable emergency radio communication system will use a complementary mix of various radio communications systems that when used in combination will still function when infrastructure fails. What is most effective is a resilient and reliable solution that does not have all the aforementioned vulnerabilities and will function in any disaster event. What we are describing is the core communications capability of a Mobile Command Center without all the overhead, in essence a Portable Command Center.

A Portable Command Center (PCC) is the ideal rapidly deployable communications solution for extended critical incident response for many reasons. A Portable Command Center is a Rapid Deployment Communication System that provides the core communications capability of a Mobile Command Center, without all the overhead and vulnerabilities to failure of large, logistically heavy vehicles. When compared to a full Mobile Command Center in the most important aspects of critical incident resiliency, the Portable Command Center always comes out ahead. (See how) This is because the trend in emergency communications for decades has been to move to smaller more nimble systems to take full advantage of technology advances. To the contrary, Mobile Command Centers have not become more nimble. Mobile Command Centers came on the scene starting in 1950s/60s when communications technology was much heavier and less functional. During that era, large vehicles were needed in order to provide the necessary physical space and necessary power systems for those much bulkier systems.

Given the advances in technology, Mobile Command Centers should be much smaller today than they were in the 1950s/60s. However, that is simply not the case as modern day Mobile Command Centers are larger than they have ever been. This is because over time, as communications systems became smaller and more efficient, the space in these vehicles gradually became repurposed and expanded as these vehicles became filled with ancillary systems that do little to improve mission communications capability. In contrast, a Portable Command Center fully exploits the advances of smaller communications technology providing the core capabilities of an entire vehicle in a much smaller, more nimble, portable package.

A Portable Command Center is also the better option for communities that have limited budgets, but still have the need for rapidly deployable emergency communications. Having the capability of a Mobile Command Vehicle without having the overhead of the vehicle itself actually provides greater flexibility as a Portable Command Center can be placed in just about any vehicle. A Portable Command Center also has many advantages over a full-sized Command Center Vehicle.

Some of these advantages include:

1. They can be more rapidly deployed and within the First 72 Hour window.

2. They do not depend on working infrastructure such as roads.

3. They are far less costly, often costing less than one year’s maintenance on a vehicle.

4. They are simpler and easier to operate and require no special staff to maintain and operate them.

5. They require much less power and can operate for sustained periods in the most austere conditions.

6. They are multi-mission capable, but can also be customized for special mission functions.

If you are considering a Mobile Command Center purchase, and would like to compare for yourself how a Portable Command Center can provide a better alternative for your agency. Click here to learn more.

About SemperComm® (“Always Communications”)

SemperComm’s Portable Command Center (PCC) is the only system available today that does not need any infrastructure in order to operate. Click here to 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. To learn more about how SemperComm® can meet your needs click here.

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