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5 Things that Fustrate an Emergency Manager

21 November 2016 5 minutes
Emergency Management

The job of an emergency manager is twofold; the majority of their time is spent planning for things that may or may not happen and other small percent of the time is spent actually responding to other events. During the course of both of these timeframes, there will be a number of things that will test their will and fortitude to do the job and may even question why I even try to do this. Here is my hit list of things that have totally frustrated me during my attempts to develop these emergency response plans and the response to actual events.


As with all planning and incident responses, the one thing that will make or break an organization is its ability to communicate. The term communicate does hold multiple means in this setting, it means verbal communication to tell people about upcoming planned events or giving orders on the fire ground. These communications need to be clear, correct, timely and to the point. The communications can also be in the form of emails, letters and even now the use of social medias to get information out.  One of the frustrations for most senior officers is their inability to fully understand how to set-up and input information to some of these new social media platforms. Thus, this operation should be delegated down to one of the junior officers with the understand that the senior officer in charge of these communications needs to review them before they go out; if a chief officer feels comfortable with the public information officer abilities to handle this without oversight even better. 

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When we are dealing with emergencies, we need to be able to communicate with other departments or agencies. Due to poor pre-planning, we are not able to which increases greatly the possibility for people to get hurt. If a chief officer gives an order to evacuate a building and none of the out-of-town mutual aid companies hear the message quickly, they stand to be caught in a dangerous situation. Imagine a case where there’s a police officer that has been shot. If the mutual aid departments are responding to the scene and do not hear the description of the shooter, they could drive past him while responding. It could lead to the shooters escape or other officers getting shot.  As I have talked about in my previous articles, all departments need to be able to develop methods of working together to establish common emergency operations frequencies. In some larger locations, you may need to have three or four channels set aside for multiple events.

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As part of our drills and basic training, we need to explain to our members that not everyone needs to be talking at the same time on the radio and especially under a very busy emergency scene not everyone has something to say. Majority of departments have a policy that everyone shall have a radio to get information, answer calls to them directly, to report to the OIC emergency messages like a wall collapse or found victim and to call a “May Day”.  All of these situations can be practiced at the company level drill with members using the fire ground frequency, channel 2 or a tactical channel; whatever you call it at your department. Each member should be assigned to go to a location in the building, call a “Training May Day” and give their situational report to command. Then, the rest of the company should attempt to locate the downed firefighter based on the locational information that was given. All members should be shown how to use all the important features of the radio like the emergency call button. On the other hand, the radio must be programmed so it will send out the proper identification signal so the incident commander will know who is sending the message. This programming can be by riding position or vehicle specific like the portable radios on Engine 1 can be labeled, E-101 which should be the officer, E-102 should be the driver, E-103 is the jump seat firefighters.


Some of the emergency events that departments respond to may take many hours to control or clear from. During this time, the batteries on the portable radios will discharge at the point that radios will die. Is there a plan to recharge them on scene, a stockpile of spare radios or batteries available that can be brought to the scene? This is one of the frustrations of a long-term incident! Just because the situation may be under control and the crews are just doing mop up work doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen like a building collapse or a member getting injured.  I have visited departments that used multiple models of radios so you will have to plan to have spare radios or batteries for all types of those radios. The mobile command post should have a few bank chargers that can be used to ensure that the command staff’s radios are kept charged while they are using the command post.  


When dealing with the stakeholders in your community, there will be times where you will have to go to them to get updated information on their emergency plans. That include telephone lists, hazardous materials storage list, hazardous processes and confined space locations to name a few. In some cases, it will be like pulling teeth to get them to give you the information. They are busy people and find it hard to find the time to give you what you need to do your job to possibly someday save their business or their lives.  Another big buy-in issue is always money; getting enough to support the emergency management operations through its annual budget as well as finding the time to apply for state and federal grants to purchase the supplies to support the plans.  Some of the grants have a cost sharing component so for a department to get a $30,000 grant to purchase a new prime mover pick-up truck, they will have to commit to spending $5,000 of their own department money.

Read the article on funding

Paul Calderwood

Deputy Fire Chief Paul Calderwood is a retired member of the Everett Fire Department, Everett, Massachusetts. He is a national and international lecturer on fire and life safety issues. He holds a Bachelors degree in Fire Protection and Safety and presently working to finish a Master’s Degree in Emergency Management and is a graduate of the NFA’s Executive Fire Officers Program. Deputy Chief Calderwood is an instructor in the Providence College’s Fire Science Program. Deputy Chief Calderwood is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist and Certified Fire Plans Examiner and he was part of the MEMA Seabrook NH Power Plant Emergency Planning team.

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