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Selection Guide on Mobile Command Vehicles Released

Need a new vehicle or an upgrade to support operations, but lack the budget or grant funding for a new 40-foot commercial cab? Don’t distress. You may have options.   

A recently published guide by the System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) Program of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate explores choices available to public safety agencies looking to purchase or upgrade their mobile command vehicles.   

Fortunately, communications equipment and hardware for supporting information technology are becoming more compact and mobile, allowing agencies to more efficiently leverage space. As such, capabilities may be realized today with smaller vehicle platforms, such as sport utility vehicles, walk-in vans, and small box vans, which were only feasible years ago with heavy-duty platforms. While million-dollar platforms are still plentiful and may be required for supporting a range of on-scene command and control responsibilities, smaller vehicles at a quarter of the cost may be adequate for many agencies.  

The Mobile Command Vehicles Selection Guide aims to assist agencies in the early stages of determining operational needs and comparing vehicle platforms and options. Worksheets in the guide seek to help agencies distinguish “needs” from “wants” for use when justifying requirements for grant applications and community leaders. In fact, agencies often procure too much capability that is not only costly, but often misunderstood, underused, and not well maintained. Conversely, vehicles may be under-equipped for budgetary or other reasons, which may severely hinder an agency’s ability to get to an incident scene quickly and to operate for an extended period of time.  

The guide makes use of operational scenarios, helping agencies identify needs and requirements early in the procurement process. For example, agencies commonly operating in mountainous terrain and off paved roads may prefer a light-duty, self-propelled vehicle. While communities needing a vehicle for infrequent use may opt for a towed platform; large agencies planning for a broad range of activities may require a heavy-duty platform.  

The primary differences between platform types include whether the vehicle is self-propelled or towable, the length of the unit, optional slide outs, and the interior configuration of functional work areas. The capability to support incident command functions with interior- or exterior-configured space is the primary variable separating mobile command vehicles from vehicles that purely support communications. However, the communications/dispatch area is the most commonly found functional area inside mobile command vehicles.  

Individual dispatch or communications stations commonly include land mobile radios, gateway systems for bridging disparate radio frequencies and equipment, computer-aided dispatch stations, and telecommunications equipment for internal and external communications. For small communities, mobile command vehicles often support dispatch operations when fixed facilities are damaged or degraded or when a temporary capability during transition to alternate locations is necessary. Mobile command vehicles may also be valuable for supporting communications at remote locations lacking communications infrastructure. In these cases, vehicles may be equipped with a cellular or satellite system for supporting communications.     

The guide also contains a listing of more than 40 vendors who manufacture, integrate, and/or distribute mobile command vehicles. In addition, experienced vehicle operators have provided lessons learned to assist peers in designing upgrades or new vehicles. These lessons are provided on a range of topics such as:

  • The configuration of antennas on the exterior of vehicles to minimize interference and audio feedback;
  • The use of panels on the exterior of the vehicles to support future upgrades and the temporary feeding of cables at an incident scene;
  • The configuration of functional areas for supporting dispatch; 
  • Strategies for minimizing noise in the interior of the vehicle;
  • Benefits associated with the use of various types of communications equipment such as cellular and IP telephony systems; and
  • The use of different types of masts and the positioning of surveillance cameras and video equipment.  

The initial procurement of a vehicle may be a significant investment for an agency, and budgets may severely limit options. Upgrading an existing vehicle and purchasing a used vehicle are alternatives that may be more affordable than purchasing a new vehicle. Based on the current mileage of an existing or used vehicle, there may be high initial maintenance costs and longevity may be significantly less than a new vehicle. Although a conversion or retrofitting may not lead to an ideal solution, it may be the most affordable and feasible option given budgetary constraints.  

Read more about mobile command vehicles and selection considerations by accessing the guide on the SAVER Program section of the Responder Knowledge Base (RKB) website: https://www.rkb.us/saver (keyword search: mobile command vehicles). The SAVER Program conducts objective assessments and validations on commercial equipment and systems, and provides those results along with other relevant equipment information to the emergency response community in an operationally useful form. SAVER provides information on equipment that falls within the categories listed in the DHS Authorized Equipment List (AEL).  

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