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Photo Report: 2011 California Mobile Command Center Rally/Disaster Management Initiative

Author: Randall D. Larson

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-06-02
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Photos 1-12 by Randall D. Larson (9-1-1 Magazine, CFCA Communications Section)
Photos 13-18 by Craig Allyn Rose (

Photos 19-21 by John Wray (PC3 Solutions).

The California Emergency Management Agency, the California Fire Chiefs Association Communications Section, and the Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley Disaster Management Initiative held the 3rd Annual Mobile Communications/Command Center rally on May 22 and 23rd, 2011.  This year’s event combined the Rally with CMU’s Disaster Management Initiative for a greater opportunity for associated workshops and exercises.  The event was held at the CMU Silicon Valley campus located within the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California.

I founded the California MCC Rally in 2009, motivated by the very successful MCC Rallies held in Fairfax County, Virginia.  Supported and encouraged by CFCA Communications Section and CalEMA, I sought to develop a similar event on the west coast, bringing together a variety of command units to provide a hands-on overview of operational assets in public and private mobile communications and command vehicles for law, fire, EMS, and emergency management agencies.  The first two Rallies, in which I served as Incident Commander, were held in Sacramento, California.  In 2010, aided by Cal-EMA Telecommunications managers Dave Larton and Jim Aspinwall, I expanded the Rally to include a handful of classroom presentations on topics relevant to field communications and coordination to enhance the basic show-and-tell format of the first one.

Taking that thought further, our 2011 development team partnered with Carnegie Mellon University – Silicon Valley (CMU-SV), which had developed a public safety training facility at the campus of the NASA Research Center in Mountain View at the former Moffett Field Naval Air Station.  In 2010, CMU had held its first Disaster Management Initiative (DMI), a wide-ranging series of educational seminars, to great success, the notion of combining the vehicle display with a cadre of provocative workshops and exercises was seen as a way of fulfilling our original goal.  Veteran fire communications supervisor and field Communications Unit Leader Don Stabler served as our Incident Commander, with Aspinwall serving as Operations Section Chief, and I facilitated the Plans Section.  CMU’s Director, Martin Griss, represented his facility along with DMI Associate Director Jeannie Stamberger, who also headed our Financial Section and proved invaluable in attracting some two dozen corporate sponsors.

This year’s Rally brought a variety of command vehicles over the two-day span (not all units were present on both days), from a restored 1975 Miller Meteor ambulance with an antiquated Motorola radio set to a brand new $1.3 million MCC shared between Monterey County and the Salinas Fire Department.  Police, fire, military, private, corporate, and non-governmental organizations like The American Red Cross showed the capabilities and connectivity of their apparatus through an ambitious Plugfest exercise in which each participating command vehicle, based on its capabilities, demonstrated real time interoperability and wireless connectivity with other units and a trailerized EOC set up by CMU.

In addition to open-house displays of nearly two dozen mobile command units of all sizes, disciplines, and configurations, workshops and exercises that covered a diverse array of technical and operational topics relevant to emergency and disaster management communications and interoperability, including classes on ICS with interactive scenarios involving miniature cityscapes, and a vendor's exhibit area.

CMU’s expertise in academic education and its reputation among centers of higher learning was important in attracting an impressive number of instructors, including notable keynote speakers Major General Scott Johnson, Commander, 40th Infantry Division, California Army National Guard who spoke on the National Guard’s role in emergencies and his experiences commanding the Guard’s joint task force in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; Joseph Pred Emergency Services Operations Chief for the annual Burning Man arts festival, who described lessons learned in providing a public safety infrastructure to this seasonal desert establishment of 50,000 attendees (see: ); and FEMA Region IX Private Sector Liaison Michael Cummings, who led a high-level panel discussion on public/private sector collaboration in disaster management.  A number of sessions focused on last September’s catastrophic gas pipeline explosion in the nearby community of San Bruno which killed eight people, outlining the intricate interworking of corporate emergency response teams from Google and Cisco that provided mapping and other logistics support to incident managers (see

With more than 400 attendees, the 2011 MCC Rally/Disaster Management Initiative proved to be a great success, fulfilling far and beyond my initial goals for a gathering of mobile command centers three years ago.  The two-day event not only brought together a wealth of technology, educational insight and experience, and demonstrated the real life proficiency of how a partnership between diverse disciplines and public/private entities can work together to achieve cooperation, commitment, and a kind of management interoperability that is not only favorable but essential in today’s high-tech world of disaster management.











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