How Mobile is the Mobile Command Center?

Almost exactly three years ago today, during Police Week 2016, the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS) unveiled its new Mobile Command Center as part of a “Police Week display” at Centre 200.

The CBC described the Mobile Command Center as a “custom-built, high-tech” vehicle for “fire and police services to use in emergency situations,” and noted that it had been built in Yarmouth by Tri-Star Industries and cost $230,000.

Source: CBC

John Dilney, manager of emergency services for the municipality, told the CBC:

In each of the compartments, you have a camera that’s mounted on the outside that you’re able to view on the inside; there’s network capability, computer capability, cable, satellite capability.

Its major function is to bring everyone together in a centralized point to co-ordinate and plan a response to that incident.

It also includes “a small kitchen and bathroom.”

CBRPS spokesperson Shannon Kerr told the CBC that the $230,000 vehicle represented a real step up for the police department:

What they were using prior to this, I believe, was a 1997 Blue Bird school bus. It was time to get something that adequately met the needs of first responders.

 

FOIPOP

Three years in, I thought it would be a good time to find out how often the Mobile Command Center has seen service since it was introduced, so I FOIPOPed the CBRPS and asked.

I received a response from Staff Sergeant Jodie Wilson, the police department’s FOIPOP administrator, dated 13 May 2019 in which she first — in answer to a question I had not asked — explained the policy for Mobile Command Center deployment.

I don’t really care, frankly, but here it is, in case it’s of interest:

  1. The on scene agency supervisor will notify the agency duty officer/watch commander so that he/she can decide whether to deploy the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [emphasis hers]
  2. If the Police Watch Commander decides there is a need for the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [again, emphasis hers] to be deployed, they will contact the Fire Service Duty Officer.
  3. When the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [still her emphasis] is deployed, there must be one certified driver and one agency supervisor (who is trained in operations) as  [sic] being deployed with the MOBILE COMMAND CENTER [seriously, what is up with the all caps?]

I realized why Wilson spent so much space cataloging the deployment rules when I flipped to page two and found this:

The only agency to use the mobile command post since it has been acquired is the police service. In addition, THE CAPE BRETON REGIONAL POLICE DOES NOT HAVE ANY TRACKING OR RECORDING SYSTEM ON HOW MANY TIMES THE MOBILE COMMAND CENTER HAS BEEN USED. [emphasis mine]

 

Broken culvert

I find it more than passing strange that the police services has no way of tracking the use of its $230,000 mobile command center, especially considering that they apparently DID track the use of that Blue Bird school bus.

The non-custom designed Mobile Command Vehicle shown on the Tri_Star website.

I know this, because I asked Dilny back in May 2016 how often the old command center was used and he sent me an email in which he began by explaining how it was used:

The Mobile Command Center is utilized for search and rescue operations, major fires, water rescue, chemical spills, evacuations and isolation, unknown power incidents, major crimes and tactical situations. It was utilized by the CBRM crisis negotiation team to develop a communications plan with hostile, barricaded suspects. The highly visible nerve center is used at scenes as a base of operations during evacuations of senior citizens, schools and when a culvert on Tometary Drive, in Howie Center eroded away due to rushing water from a brook, isolating upwards of 150 families overnight on November 2, 2000.

I can’t actually tell how many of those are potential uses of the vehicle and how many were actual uses, but the fact that he mentioned only one, specific incident from 16 years previously gave me pause.

Then Dilny wrote:

When the old Command Center was newer and met our response requirements, it was used 24 times per year. The unit was also made available to our neighboring municipalities through our Municipal Services Emergency Management Mutual Aid Agreement.

When I pressed for further details, he said:

The most types of incidents that the Command Post was used for over the last couple of years was search and rescues and police related incidents. This office does not track the incidents of usage therefore I do not have dates.

I am not sure how Dilny knew the old command center was used 24 times a year if his department doesn’t track its use or on what basis he then went on to predict that the new mobile command center would be used “an estimate[d] 30 times each year across CBRM departments — including police, fire public works.”

But I do know, from Wilson’s response, that in the past three years the command center has not been used by the fire department or the public works department or by any other municipality — it’s been used by solely by the police, although I don’t know how often or for what purpose.

I can’t even tell you whether it saw service during the October 2016 Thanksgiving floods, which is surely the biggest disaster the CBRM has experienced since the vehicle was introduced. If you don’t include the attempt to secure federal funding for the new central library. Although I’m not sure even a $230,000 MOBILE COMMAND CENTER would have helped with that.