directly out to the tent and have people processing calls directly from the tent," Argiropoulos said.  

The setup also gives command-center workers access to video data from the cameras positioned all over downtown Chicago. The cameras allow police and fire dispatchers to spot trouble that requires an emergency response, and they can route calls as needed.

Movable Hub
The vehicle serves as a communications hub for federal, state and local agencies because the OEMC can tap into the city-owned fiber network and route emergency calls in ways that most efficiently serve those agencies' needs.

"Whether it's the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA, the Chicago Police [Department] or suburban fire officials, the flexibility is there in terms of our phone routing because we own [the network]," Argiropoulos said. "We pipe it to the fiber network, which the public can't infiltrate."

The truck also connects to several radio bands.

"We have the VHF band and the UHF band. We have high band and low band," Argiropoulos said. "If you need to talk to the Department of Defense or the military, we've got high-frequency radio. If we need to talk to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency or FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], we have low-band radios."

The truck can access 128 responder frequencies for the surrounding Chicagoland areas. The vehicle's users can tap into those frequencies to communicate with the regional responders using them.

"Within Cook County, you're talking about 100-plus police, fire and EMS [emergency management services] agencies," Argiropoulos said. "We've already preprogrammed them."

Argiropoulos said the truck also lets agencies using different frequencies to communicate with each other.

"If you need to bridge the frequencies, we have a VoIP bridge system, so we can tie the Chicago police with the Secret Service or the Secret Service with the FBI. We even have an encrypted port on our router."

Argiropoulos said agencies, like the Secret Service, the FBI and others needing extra confidentiality measures, find the encrypted functionality especially useful.

Dual Functionality
Chicago maintains server redundancy buildings, but the city could choose to skip that expense because of the Unified Command Vehicle, said Chris Herndon, chief technologist for MorganFranklin Corp., the vehicle's vendor.

Herndon is pitching the vehicle to other local EOCs as a redundancy data center and remote command facility alternative to traditional remote buildings. The trucks can house dozens of rack mount servers, according to Herndon.

"Many of the newer CAD [computer-aided dispatch] systems are running on multiple 1-RU [rack unit] servers. We can dedicate well over 100 RU worth of rack space to house these servers. The servers that New Orleans uses are about 30 RU each, and their entire capability can be replicated in two of these servers, of which we have plenty of room to spare."

Though Chicago's vehicle could function in the place of its server-redundancy building, city government chose to maintain both the vehicle and the building as a measure of added security, explained Kevin Smith, OEMC spokesman.

"[For Chicago], it's not the fact that it's a server replication as much as it is the redundancy of being able to host an emergency operations center remotely out in the field," Argiropoulos said.

Herndon is using the vehicle's dual functionality as a data center and communications facility as a selling point for its ability to cut government costs. He said governments could eliminate the money they spend on leasing remote data centers and office facilities that don't readily come with the hardware the mobile command vehicles contain.

Argiropoulos said he believes Chicago's Unified Command Vehicle is a model for the nation.

"This was something that was long overdue for the United States," he said. "It's a model. It's very methodical. It has tons of capabilities. It's not a tractor and trailer where you're going to put 20, 30 or 40 people in it. It's a network/server farm/cellular farm on wheels. We raise the satellite dish -- we raise the mast -- we bring the trailer with our own [figurative] building," he said. "That thing is chock-full of technology that can pretty much do anything."

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.