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California-Based Mobile Command Vehicle Rally Giving Insight to Emergency & Disaster Management in Japan

Date: 2017-02-15
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The Northern California Mobile Command Center Rally, which 9-1-1 Magazine has sponsored since shortly after the event’s inception in 2009, is a showcase for mobile command and communications vehicles of all types throughout northern California, for all public safety disciplines, from 40’and larger industry-manufactured, high-technology units to home-grown trailers and other designs that can be just as useful in providing incident management and communications support to the incident command post. The Rally recently held its 8th Annual event in the state’s capital, Sacramento, last May (pictured, below).

A growing connection between the California event and developments in mobile communications vehicles in Japan and Indonesia have been undertaken with the support of Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi, the manager of international programs for the Community Emergency Management Institute Japan (CEMIJ), who also provides emergency management-related assistance programs throughout Asia and elsewhere. Through the university research offices he associates with in Japan, Mr. Igarashi is attempting to encourage the effective use of mobile command and communication vehicles in disasters in his country as one method to increase the use of incident command function for devastated areas. In addition, he is doing research to design command and communication vehicles for government agencies with fewer resources in developing countries. 

Mr. Igarashi learned about the California MCC Rally through its web site, which is sponsored and hosted by 9-1-1 Magazine. He began attending the Northern California Rally in 2012, both sharing his own experiences and lessons learned from the massive earthquake and tsunami his country experienced in March, 2011, and working with Rally Operations Section Chief Donald Stabler and Rally founder and Plans Section Chief Randall D. Larson, who shared their experience and expertise in designing and operating in mobile command vehicles during major events in California.

Above: Hitoshi Igarashi (left) with MCC Rally command staff (l-to-r) Randall Larson, Donald Stabler, Chuck Berdan at the 2012 Rally in Sacramento.

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“When I contacted the MCC Rally team, I was searching for clues to solve command, control, and communications problems we have had in Japan,” Mr. Igarashi said. “Our command centers have always been established within a building, usually at main office of the local government. This proved to be impractical in nearly a dozen cases where that office became inoperable and had to be evacuated until personnel from non-affected areas could be brought in to assist in restored facilities. I wanted to suggest something new – and when I learned about the widespread use of mobile command units in the USA I knew this was the answer.”

Mr. Igarashi took this information back with him to Japan where it proved very helpful in encouraging fire and emergency management agencies in his country to see the value of compact, mobile, and quick-response “3Cs vehicles” (Command, Control, and Communications).


Example of a compact 3Cs (Command, Control, and Communications) in use by the Tokyo Fire Dept.

The partnership between Mr. Igarashi, Stabler, and Larson (and more recently, former Rally IC Chuck Berdan) became further solidified over ensuing years, with the latter two serving as technical advisors to the CEMIJ. The concept of the “3Cs vehicle” resultantly began to take hold outside of Japan’s fairly modern emergency services borders. “I was able to learn crucial things at each visit to the California Rally, and now I try to teach humanitarian agencies in Indonesia and the Philippines and share the way we can smartly mitigate some issues of losing local emergency management capabilities due to the magnitude of disasters,” said Mr. Igarashi. “By deploying a 3Cs vehicle, we can continue providing vital emergency management – especially command, control, and communications capabilities and continue serving the affected population with efficiency and effectiveness. In Indonesia, for example, the Ministry of Social Affairs is considering adapting the ICS concept of the U.S. and the same is beginning to happen with the Philippines’ fire agencies. The Northern California MCC Rally has contributed a great deal to the capabilities of other public safety agencies in Asia.”

The mobile 3Cs concept received a boost in publicity last October when the popular Japanese public safety trade magazine, J-Rescue, published an article on the concept [above], highlighting the lessons learned at gatherings such as California’s MCC Rallies. Written by Mr. Igarashi along with MCC Rally/9-1-1 Magazine’s Randall Larson, the article is summarized in English below:

Learning America’s Mobile Incident Command Operations: Applications of an Advanced Command, Control and Communications Vehicle to Site-level Operations

Japan was hit by a large earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami on March 11, 2011. Due to the magnitude of the unprecedented event, a function of the fire service’s command and control capabilities became inoperable. How to maintain the Fire’s response capability under the loss of a headquarters building is a critical issue to be resolved. One alternative answer was found in the United States of America: that is the application of a mobile command, control, and communications (3Cs) vehicle as an alternative infrastructure to maintain the command capability of the fire service. This article is to introduce how the mobile 3Cs vehicles are applied in the event of catastrophe.


Above, Left: Hitoshi Igarashi attended the 2012 Northern California MCC Rally both to learn and present lessons from his experiences observing emergency management in the aftermath of Japan's 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Above, Right: Mr. Igarashi teaches a lessons-learned class on mobile command and communications , based on further evaluation of the Tohoku quake response, at the 2014 MCC Rally.

Critical Disaster Management Facilities

Based on the congressional investigations that took place after the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, America’s public safety and emergency management agencies have implemented a variety of measures to strengthen their overall emergency response capabilities in line with the National Response Framework (NRF), which provides a standardized emergency and disaster response outline.

In the State of California, the associated agencies at all levels of government have also taken up the requirements set by the NRF. Based on the response framework, two types of emergency management facilities are usually established in order to achieve the goals of saving lives by the responsible agency, in line with an incident command system. They are an Incident Command Post (ICP) and an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The ICP is the incident-level operations management point at which an incident commander or command team deals with emergency situations through the management and application of resources and personnel in an effective and efficient manner.


Through Mr. Igarashi's CEMIJ organization, 9-1-1 Magazine editor/MCC Rally founder Randall Larson, with the support of the San Jose (CA) Fire Dept, was brought to Japan in 2013 to teach classes on Citizen's Emergency Response Teams for members of the Kobe Fire Dept [left], and on Command Post Operations to senior staff members of the Tokyo Fire Dept [right], supporting CEMIJ's proposals for civilian and 3Cs coordination of disaster management support.

The EOC is a local government level facility in which coordination and sourcing of necessary resources take place in order to support the operations of one or more ICPs. EOC staff usually does not interfere with the command activities of the ICP but provide necessary support at a local or national government level; the elected officials of the responsible local authorities usually associate with the EOC, leaving the field work to the local response agencies. Except when certain emergencies require criminal forensic activities and investigations, the fire agencies usually take the lead and command the entire response operations.

Self-contained 3Cs Vehicles

The 3Cs vehicles are usually deployed at the ICP, and if the vehicle has redundant and advanced communications systems, it can provide an EOC function as well. The 3Cs vehicles are highly mobile as they can be driven to safer locations and redeployed if any identified threats approach their initial deployment areas.


Above: An citizen-based emergency management and field communications exercise set up by Hitoshi Igarashi in Indonesia, using concepts based on the American Incident Command System (ICS) and use of mobile 3Cs command/communications vehicles.

The Northern California Mobile Command Vehicle Rally, which takes place annually, provides a crucial opportunity for public safety agencies that possess a 3Cs vehicle to participate not only to demonstrate the capabilities of their vehicles but in to learn about new equipment, operational concepts, previous experiences, and sharing lessons learned from recent responses. The Rally also provides a small curriculum of relevant classes where all participants are able to learn about new technology, newly-developed methods in command and control, and face-to-face interaction with peers from allied agencies. One day at a big disaster, we will be able to see some of the familiar faces that would also facilitate response operations. Thus, the Rally is a valuable place to learn from each other and update current issues in emergency management.


Above: A new mobile 3Cs vehicle under construction, designed by Hitoshi Igarashi after examining various mobile command/communications units at the California MCC Rally.

Surprisingly Advanced Communications Capability

The base chassis for 3Cs vehicles can be selected from various sizes; however, they all should be able meet the agency’s needs in capabilities that support information collection, analysis, evaluation and dissemination, and decision making under stressful conditions. The USA’s Federal Emergency Management Agency maintains a list of recommended equipment to be on board of the vehicle; and these vehicles are categorized by capability just as fire apparatus and other response vehicles are. The communications capability is something extraordinary in comparison to Japan, in that the 3Cs vehicles are equipped with nearly all modes of communications systems including a digital satellite based VoIP as well as a HF (high frequency) frequency-based VoIP and multi-band/all mode field programmable radio frequencies which can also receive distress signals from citizens’ band and marine frequencies as well and being able to communicate between diverse support resources as well as military support responders. Radio interoperability technology supports the aforementioned intelligence activities necessary for effective and efficient emergency response operations without compromise.


Above: In addition to government response mobile command posts, a lesson taken back to Japan was the need for non-government support agencies, like California's utility company Pacific Gas & Electric [left] and volunteer North Valley Animal Disaster Group, both of which have displayed their mobile command vehicles at the MCC Rallies, considered for inclusion in a disaster response, as their support at the incident command level can be significant.

Collaboration with Multi-Agencies at Site-Level Operations

Based on the National Response Framework, 3Cs vehicles provide a platform to share information that facilitates multi-agency collaboration and cohesive approaches to all types of disasters. Private entities such as the American Red Cross, Utility Company response support, and local Animal Rescue services also deploy similar types of vehicles in line with an incident command system in order to operate in a coherent manner and meet the needs of the incident and the public. This is something we need to learn in Japan.

Right: A mobile Command Unit operated by the Narita Fire Dept. of Japan

Medium Size Vehicles Can Be Suitable for Japan

Japan certainly requires considering building 3Cs vehicles in order to improve overall emergency and disaster management response operations, especially focusing on strengthening the fire service’s command and control capabilities in order that they are not compromised in the event its headquarters EOCs are rendered inoperable.

With advances in technology that Japan is known for, such as producing smaller equipment, a medium size vehicle may prove sufficiently capable of commanding and controlling response operations in larger disasters.

3Cs vehicles will provide not only for emergency management practices but also become a hub for security management and operations at large events.

Japan will host the Summer Olympics in 2020 and should be ready for preventing, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from, any kinds of threats.

For more information on the Community Emergency Management Institute Japan, see this website.

See related stories:

Managing Volunteers in Disaster Response: Kumamoto Earthquake in Japan - Assessing the Value of A Volunteers' Coordination Platform by Hitoshi Igarashi, CEMIJ & Hideki Nagayoshi

Mobile Communications, Coordination, and Incident Command Training for Indonesian Emergency Responders by Hitoshi Igarashi

For more information on the California MCC Rally, see:

Photos by Hitoshi Igarashi & Randall D. Larson. Click on images to view at larger size.


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