2013-08-09 / In the Know

Grant provides funds for upgrades to command van

In the Know
By B. Michael Thurlow
Special contributor


Recently the Scarborough Emergency Management Agency received notification that we have been awarded federal grant funding totaling nearly $40,000 for technology upgrades to our current command van.

The command van was originally purchased as a regional asset in 2006. It was funded primarily with federal homeland security grant funding through the Maine Emergency Management Agency with smaller contributions from Cumberland County and a small local match from the Town of Scarborough.

Over the years this impressive piece of apparatus has responded to numerous training exercises and dozens of actual emergencies including structure fires, search and rescue missions, hazardous materials spills and many police special response team calls all over Cumberland County.

The command van is built on a commercial chassis and is similar in shape and size to a large bread-type delivery truck.

The front portion provides work stations for up to three dispatchers to simultaneously manage multiple radios and frequencies to interact with the various agencies involved in a specialized response incident.

It also contains a separate interview/conference room in the back where command staff can conduct briefings, create plans, or interview witnesses and suspects.

One of the key aspects of the command van is that it provides a platform for radio, telephone and electronic data necessary for first responders to perform their duties.

It must be able to provide those services anywhere an emergency occurs, even in remote locations. This requires that we have not only a solid cellular system, but also a satellite system for redundancy for those times when we may not have a suitable cellular connection.

After nearly eight years of service many of the systems originally installed have become obsolete or are no longer supported.

Technology changes so quickly that the original satellite and cellular phone systems are no longer sufficient to meet our needs for high speed voice and data.

Fortunately this grant will completely fund necessary upgrades which we hope will extend the life and functionality of this important piece of apparatus for many years to come.

A new satellite system has been purchased that has significantly greater speed and bandwidth capacity. We have also built in a new fail safe system so that when cellular coverage is insufficient the system automatically swaps over to a satellite connection so important data or phone calls aren’t missed in the middle of a disaster.

Additionally, we are replacing the existing cell phone system which is no longer supported and moving to a voice over IP system that is tied directly into the Town’s new secured Internet-based phone system.

The upgrade also includes replacing old television sets with flat screen LCD panels and updating computer equipment, printers, and video recording equipment.

All of these improvements will bring the command van up to modern technological standards and make it more efficient to operate, but that is only part of the solution.

It takes people to operate a specialized piece of apparatus like this with all its many systems. Since the vans inception the North Scarborough Fire Company has worked diligently to assist with the design, construction, and operation of the command van.

They have several members who train regularly and are willing to respond to help agencies in need all over the county, often for extended periods of time. Without their work and expertise the truck and technology would be useless.

That call company delivers a tremendous package of services to the public safety agencies throughout Cumberland County that request our assistance on a regular basis and I am grateful for their dedication to this important mission.

If you have any questions about this article or any fire department issue you may contact me at mthurl@ ci.scarborough.me.us or 730-4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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