In 2012 Coquitlam SAR realised that our mobile command centre, named “Coquitlam 1” was due for replacement. Commissioned in 1996, the vehicle was a GMC/Grumman Olsen Commercial Van modified by volunteer labour to serve as our command centre. The heart of all SAR operations and public events for just about 20 years, the vehicle was showing its age. Designed in a time when computer equipment and data networks were not commonly use in SAR, it had been modified over the years to support computers, internet, and satellite communications, but the team was running up against serious limitations. In addition it had reached the limit of the amount of weight it could carry.
The team began investigating what we would need to do to replace the command centre. Initially, the effort was in determining the basic chassis of a new vehicle – size, power and even brand. Further, the team began looking to other SAR teams in BC and elsewhere to see what elements they were including in their designs. Finally, we tapped into the decades of SAR management experience within the team itself, and built a list of requirements based on our past experiences and the kinds of tasks we respond to. By 2013 we had an estimated budget and launched our fundraising campaign.
The seed money for the project was to come from the Coquitlam Foundation – unsolicited donations from the public that the team had been investing with the foundation for exactly this kind of project. By late 2014 the team had reached a major funding milestone – receiving grants through the Province of BC and the City of Coquitlam that brought us 75% of the way to our funding goal. Soon after a slew of corporate and charitable sponsorships came through and the project was fully funded. A list of all of the sponsors of the project can be found on our sponsors page.
Once we reached the 75% funding milestone, we began the design phase of the project in earnest. Some major choices were made – we decided on a diesel powered Ford F650 at 35′ length overall. This meant no requirement for special licensing as the truck would have hydraulic brakes. The decision was made to have the command module – the the “box” mounted on the back of the truck chassis, built at Intercontinental Truck Body (ITB) in Surrey BC. ITB has built search and rescue equipment for many SAR teams throughout BC and was a local company so members of the team could supervise the build.
The technical requirements for the truck took a lot of work. We decided on an 8kWh Onan diesel generator to power the command centre, backed by a battery bank and a smart inverter / charger / UPS for clean reliable power. We also added a few “must haves” that all SAR management agreed on – air conditioning, heating, and a planning room with a divider door.
As the design meetings continued we settled on a floor plan that included three interior compartments: a forward operations room where the main tasks of managing a search, communicating with field teams, and handling logistics would be carried out, a central utility room where the entry door would be located along with noisy printers, and an equipment rack, and the rear planning area, also useful for briefing and debriefing teams and interviews. With wide sliding doors between these three areas we felt that we could have a large open feeling while being able to create quiet working areas when needed – something very valuable in the middle of a bustling search.
For the exterior of the truck we included a large amount of covered and well lit working areas around the truck for the upwards of 20 SAR members who attend an average task – places to sort gear, make notes, and pack bags. We designed a large sheltered counter space with storage compartments at counter height for the most used equipment – things like consumable supplies and first aid equipment. We built in a large “barn door” shelved storage area for rope rescue equipment, and we placed most of this on the passenger side for easy access, even when parked at the side of the road.
For the technology component, we specified that the entire truck would be wired with Cat6 cabling which was to be used for computer networking, our phone system, our audio/video distribution system and for remote radio consoles. Where possible we chose power over ethernet devices for the simplicity of a single cable providing data and power. We chose a VoIP phone system with the capability of using 4 VoIP lines, and 4 regular telephone lines for maximum utility. A rack mounted server was purchased from Dell. We decided internet connectivity would be supplied by two “smart hubs” – consumer devices that give users a data connection and a phone line over the mobile network. The phone lines would be plugged into the VoIP system, and the data would connect through a load balancing router that would spread the bandwidth across two connection.
For our radios, a parallel project to replace the team’s radio communications with a new digital system was well underway – this project included the ability to track the location of field teams over the digital network via GPS units in each radio. Premier Christy Clark visited Coquitlam SAR to announce a further $10,000 for this part of the project in early 2016.
The build of the new Mobile Command Centre commenced in the fall of 2015 at ITB in Surrey. The Ford Cab and chassis was delivered from Metro Ford, and the first payment kicked off the build process. The aluminium frame went up very quickly, while the team finalised the electrical system.
Coquitlam SAR members visited ITB weekly throughout the spring and summer of 2016, addressing issues and making minor adjustments to the design where possible. We worked very closely with ITB designers and project manager John Van Seters, and we’re confident that because of our choice of a local builder we got more than our donor’s money’s worth.
Delivery and Launch
Coquitlam SAR took delivery of the new mobile command centre mid October 2016 and began the final phase of the project – Technology and communications install. The radio and satellite communications were handled by Chroma Communications owner Dirk De Jager – a long time friend of Coquitlam SAR. Technology such as networking and computer communications were handled by Michael Coyle, a SAR Manager and owner of Blue Toque Consulting.
The new command centre was put into service in late November of 2016.