Mobile center meets needs in changing world

California communities are reminded often of the importance of disaster preparedness, and Claremont is no exception.

With the ever-present threat of earthquakes and wildfires in our foothill community, residents and city staff know the importance of having a centralized location that allows first responders to communicate with those affected by the crisis.

The recent delivery of Claremont’s new state-of-the-art mobile communications center will provide just that.

In 2012, the Claremont Police Department commissioned Frontline Communications to build a 53-foot mobile communication center to better serve the community. Captain Jon Traber worked directly with the Florida-based company and served as the department’s project manager, overseeing the design and production of the unit from its conception through delivery in February 2014.

“A project of this size has heavy customer involvement,” says Andy Callaway, General Manager of Frontline Communications. “We had three in-process inspections by the customer including a critical design review. Once we were all in agreement, the building began.”

Construction of the mobile command center commenced in March 2013 and required 8,000-plus man-hours to complete. Custom-built by the department’s specifications, the new mobile center replaces the city’s previous 11-year-old unit that was sold to the Calexico Police Department in 2012.

The new 53-foot, four-slide trailer houses a fully operational emergency operation unit, complete with a dispatch center that allows interoperability with other local, state and county agencies when staffed.

The impressive mobile unit is also outfitted with two pneumatic masts; one for lights and one for radio frequency equipment and is equipped with a conference room complete with television monitors, touch screen computers as well as an audio/video system that permits the user to play any display on the monitors inside or outside the command post.

“It’s state-of-the-art,” Captain Traber says. “Technology will always evolve and develop, but we’ve got the systems that will meet our needs. Even during the course of the build, there were improvements in technology so we were able to make upgrades.”

At nearly 19 feet, the largest of the four slides accommodates a management area with seats for the school district, college staff, fire department, Red Cross, or anyone else that may be needed as part of an Emergency Operation Center activation. This designated area, in addition to the conference room, will provide plenty of workspace for emergency personnel.

“It will seat 33 people with lots of room to comfortably move around. I think 40-50 people could operate in here rather comfortably,” says Captain Traber.

Keeping it all running without interruption is a 56 Kilowatt generator that powers the air conditioning and heating units as well as the communications and electronics systems with additional power to spare for other applications.

“Without the air conditioner on, the generator will last one week or longer. During hot weather, with the air set on maximum, about 5 to 7 days,” says Captain Traber.

As you may imagine, a mobile communications center of this caliber doesn’t come cheap. The 53-foot trailer and the truck used to transport it cost nearly $2 million. Funding was made possible by a combination of state and federal grants, some in-house money as well as donations from the Claremont Unified School District and the Claremont Colleges.

The new communications center is meant to take the place of the police department’s previous Emergency Operation Center (EOC) located in the Citrus Room above city hall.  According to Captain Traber, public safety standards dictate that central services buildings need to be rated one and a half times code. Claremont City Hall does not fulfill that requirement.

“In the event an earthquake, if it challenged or compromised any part of city hall and they had to close it down, we wouldn’t have a functional EOC.”

Deployment of the mobile center in an emergency would be evaluated independently based on the location of the event and severity of the damage. If the event were citywide, the unit would most likely remain at the police station or pre-deploy to Claremont High School, which served as an EOC headquarters during the 2003 Grand Prix fire.

The Metrolink station, with its ample parking, is also another possibility.

In the event of a large-scale crisis outside of Claremont’s city limits, police would make the mobile communications center available to those cities and services in need.

“Part of the grant money stipulated that we make it available to local, regional or even statewide agencies if they needed it. The reason why we have a day cab on the truck is so we could send our trained staff (probably a driver and an IT guy) to go where the trailer is needed to help set those systems up,” Captain Traber explained. “Once set up, they can retreat to the day cab and be around to help if those inside needed technical assistance, but not get in the way of the people actually running the EOC.”

Captain Traber plans on training as many of the department’s existing personnel as possible, which would provide some flexibility in who operates the trailer in the event of an emergency. Two officers with Class A licenses have already been designated to drive the unit and they are also familiar with erecting the floors and the slide-outs.

Setting up the mobile center’s redundant communications systems has been time consuming but the captain is optimistic that the entire unit will be up and running by June 1.

“We’re still working on the technical systems. We have a couple guys on our staff working on that and when that’s done, we’ll be training additional staff to get the technical system set up,“ says Captain Traber.

“Once established, we’d like those to function as a second police station if we needed it to.”

Overall, Claremont residents and city staff should be pleased with the addition of the department’s new mobile communications center, despite its imposing presence and hefty price tag.

“I think given the fact that we got funding from federal grants, state grants and cooperative money from the school district and the colleges, there was minimal impact on the city’s budget,” says Lieutenant Mike Ciszek. “For the amount of money that the city put in, to get what we got is definitely a return on their investment.”

City residents and visitors interested in touring the mobile communications center will be presented with that opportunity during Claremont’s 66th Annual Fourth of July Celebration and Festival where it is scheduled to make its debut as the lead vehicle in the Independence Day parade.

—Angela Bailey


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