Portland and South Portland public safety officials on Monday unveiled their new regional mobile command post, a high-tech RV designed to give commanders the ability to direct a large-scale emergency response from the scene of a major event.

The state-of-the-art vehicle includes a fully operational dispatch center, a conference center with Internet connections, satellite communications and a boom-mounted camera that can give commanders a view from 40 feet in the air.

“Command and control is truly the line between life and death,” Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference outside City Hall, in front of the sleek, black vehicle. “It does make our communities safer and it also makes our firefighters and officers safe, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The vehicle will give fire and police commanders a chance to work closely while at a scene, reducing opportunities for confusion and miscommunication.

“A self-contained, ready to roll command vehicle can help to minimize the chaos and delays that often accompany the initial response to a major incident,” according to a statement from Portland city officials. “Commanders are able to focus on critical decision-making rather than trying to figure out how to connect their laptop to the network.”

“A command vehicle also provides a stable, single point of coordination for public safety responders. This helps reduce confusion, duplication of efforts, and other pitfalls commonly associated with large scale emergencies,” the statement said.

The vehicle was purchased with a $490,000 port security grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The vehicle cost about $400,900 with another $60,000 in radio and computer gear.

Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said the vehicle would have been useful when managing a fire last year in the city’s busy Fore Street restaurant district.

“It would have allowed us a place (for) city departments to talk about the efforts to get businesses back up and running and a place of coordination,” he said. It also would have given investigators a place to conduct interviews after a fire destroyed a hotel under renovation on Great Diamond Island, he said.

The command post has the ability to communicate with all public safety agencies in the area, even though many use different radio systems that might otherwise interfere with easy communications, he said.

During two presidential visits in recent years, the departments borrowed a command post from Maine State Police.

Sauschuck said the vehicle could help police deal with a situation like a 13-hour standoff last year with a barricaded man on St. John Street during foul weather. It also will be useful in overseeing the July Fourth festivities on the Eastern Prom, he said.

One important attribute of having the mobile command center is that while it focuses exclusively on a major event in the city, the dispatch center based at Portland police headquarters at 108 Middle St. can continue to monitor calls for service and direct responses for the two cities.

“It’s the headquarters for a particular incident,” Sauschuck said. Previously, incidents often were directed from the back of a department sport utility vehicle or from a huddle of supervisors outside a fire scene.

Portland and South Portland’s police and fire departments each has members specially trained on the vehicle’s equipment, said South Portland Police Chief Ed Googins.

Inside, the black walls are covered with flat panel displays and banks of computer servers.

There are three fully functional dispatch consoles, a conference table with laptop computers, and several displays where responders can layer different maps of the area.

A joystick allows operators to direct the aerial camera, which also has a microphone. It also is outfitted with a microwave oven and a bathroom.

The vehicle had its maiden voyage Sunday night as South Portland police and firefighters conducted an “active shooter” drill at the Maine Mall after closing time, said South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond. He said the vehicle performed well and allowed commanders to focus intently on the incident unfolding.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman


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