Communications are primarily established from the EOC; however, EMAs are often called upon to provide temporary emergency field communications. When this happens a Mobile Communication Unit is required.
MCEMA’s Mobile Communications Unit is responsible for the management and coordination of various voice and data communications systems and services in support of the MCEMA Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
The following is from The Role of Mobile Emergency Tactical Communication Systems for Disaster Response by Patrick C. Smith and David M. Simpson of the Center for Hazards Research and Policy Development.
Enhanced communications continue to be of vital importance for effective response to disasters. Lack of communications directly contributes to low levels of situational awareness for both high-level commanders and emergency responders in the field. When all lines of contact are down, effective response to disaster is greatly diminished. Establishing and maintaining lines of direct contact between decision makers, formal and informal responders, government officials, and the public is a primary objective in any emergency planning or response scenario. A continuing reexamination of providing emergency communications is critical for lessening the impacts of future disasters. Utilizing advances in technology that allow for higher degrees of mobility for communications systems introduces a new level of flexibility for operational command structures.
The emergency operations center (EOC) is regarded as the central physical point in an emergency communications infrastructure. The EOC is the physical location at which the coordination of information and resources normally take place. In many jurisdictions EOCs are intended to serve as the central decision making node for response efforts.
Standing EOCs, or those activated to support larger, more complex events, are typically established in a more central or permanently established facility at a higher level of organization within a jurisdiction (U.S Department of Homeland Security, 2004). There are some advantages to housing emergency operations in a fixed location. Maintaining distance from incident sites that are dangerous and potentially disruptive to command personnel is important. In cases where hazard effects are multi-jurisdictional it is helpful for complicated organizational structures to locate EOCs in a large space for comfortable accommodation of representatives and officers from various agencies.
While standing EOCs serve the central command and control node during disasters, there are drawbacks in tying decision making processes to a fixed location at a distance from the incident scene. Emergency Operations Centers with stations for all participants within a single “war room” go a long way to promote cooperation between the local agencies represented in that room, but communication in the field is generally still a considerable problem (Wolshon et al, 2005). Poor communications with incident responders decreases the situational awareness of the command staff at the EOC. Such unfamiliarity with the on-scene situation leads to poor decision-making.
Also, there is possibility that the EOC will be destroyed or rendered useless due to the effects of a disaster. Many EOCs along the Gulf Coast suffered this fate during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Flooding in New Orleans on August 30 forced the closure of the Orleans Parish EOC, leaving the Mayor with no ability to command local efforts or to guide State and Federal support for two days following the storm (U.S. Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, 2006). In Waveland, Mississippi the storms generated by Katrina destroyed all command and control communications even though the city had staged resources at various public buildings and on the outskirts of the city (US House of Representatives, 2006). In such cases the loss of capacity to direct response efforts greatly contributes to breakdowns in effective incident management.
The flexibility of mobile command and communications allows for optimal on–scene interaction between incident responders combined with an ability to act as a communications clearinghouse for support activities and information dissemination to the public. This paper highlights the importance of flexible communications for emergency operations, but communications, even state of the art wireless systems, are not the only factor for effective emergency response. Preparedness to respond through a continuing series of exercises, drills, and simulations should also remain a paramount concern; particularly when new, and untested technologies are employed.