DEMA assists with mobile communications during Sawmill Fire

DEMA assists with mobile communications during Sawmill Fire

Sawmill Fire, April 2017; Photo by: Southwest Incident Management Team

In an emergency, strong communication is essential to keep people safe and ensure a common operating picture among response agencies.  That’s why the deployment and careful handling of the Mobile Emergency Operations and Communications Center proved critical in battling the Sawmill Fire just south of Tucson.

Known as the “Bullfrog,” the Mobile Emergency Operations and Communications Center is designed to support field voice and data communications statewide during an emergency. The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) Communications Supervisor Morgan Hoaglin was deployed with the Bullfrog for six days at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Sonoita, Ariz. Hoaglin worked with three fellow DEMA employees, four radio operators and the Southwest Area Incident Management Team communications leader. The crew used the Bullfrog’s Very High Frequency (VHF) radio and programmed it to the VHF frequencies being used by the various agencies working the Sawmill Fire. The Bullfrog also offered internet data through Verizon MiFi networks and satellite internet.

“This was a new experience for DEMA employees, who are not generally deployed to the command post of a wildland fire,” Hoaglin said. “We were happy to provide the communications assets to the Incident Management Team (IMT).”

The Bullfrog is designed to operate off- the- grid for days at a time with support personnel. It has a 90-gallon diesel fuel tank which is connected to a generator, operates on standard utility power and can be deployed anywhere in the state within eight hours.

The Mobile Emergency Operations and Communications Center has been used during previous disasters and exercises, including the Hostile Action Drill at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the Wenden Floods, Wallow Fire and Town of Maricopa Tire Fire.

“We were proud to know we had provided better radio range/environment and reliable internet beyond IMT’s normal operating environment,” Hoaglin said.

After the successful communication operation during the Sawmill Fire, Hoaglin keeps his eye on the future and aims to improve communication capability going forward. He knows disasters can happen at any time and that emergency preparation is key to a successful response.

“Since the heaviest use in the Bullfrog was the VHF radio, we would like to add an addition VHF Radio so two VHF channels could be used,” Hoaglin said. 

Hoaglin also hopes to increase the WiFi range offered by the Bullfrog from 25 feet to 200 feet.

“Wildland fires response efforts are organized in a specific way and they are fast moving,” Hoaglin said. “DEMA Communications was very pleased to be able learn and experience this type of response.”