January 1, 2006
Cobalt Equipment is an equipment rental company specializing in emergency services. When a wildfire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or earthquake occurs, Cobalt has State and Federal contracts to respond, and relies upon a wide variety of high-quality equipment at various locations around the U.S. to assist with on-site operations, including communications equipment, shower and laundry units, tents, power distribution, and lighting. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, Cobalt had established five large camps in Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana that housed 20,000 people.
Cobalt Equipment worked with Fremont-California-based VoIP/RoIP consultants and systems integrators TelePath Corporation to select a state-of-the art RoIP solution for their new mobile ECC. For over 31 years, TelePath has specialized in providing complex two-way radio systems, security camera systems, and RF signal reinforcement to high-tech manufacturing, transportation, utilities, and public safety entities across Northern California.
Cobalt has designed and built many small communication trailers to meet the needs of their clients, each containing a variety of mission-critical equipment, including satellite systems, VOIP, and multi-camp and state networks. Now Cobalt has a trailer large enough to meet the rising demand for long-term response. Cobalt President Rob Knabe explains:
“We have a lot of smaller communications trucks for incidents that might last a few hours, but, up until now, nothing that could handle an incident that might last more than one month. Last year we were on a fire response for more than a month and a half; there was nothing available in the industry to relieve the team, who were working in a cramped, 25-foot space filled with equipment. So we sat down with several communication techs on the State and Federal level and asked, ‘If we were able to build a large-scale mobile command center, what would you want it to be?’ We explored the possibilities and worked through various designs for three months, arriving at a new kind of communications vehicle built into a 53-foot-long semi-trailer.”
Once the layout of the trailer was finalized, Cobalt consulted with Aaron Ettinger of TelePath and determined that the Telex IP-223 ROIP / C-Soft dispatch system was the best solution to support a long-term incident.
“Telex is very user-friendly,” adds Knabe; “it can be changed quickly, and it’s very flexible. We looked at several other systems, but we kept on coming back to Telex. A lot of states and state fire agencies also use Telex, so we figured that it would be a good fit with anyone with whom we would ever work.”
“Telex is without a doubt the industry-leader in VoIP/RoIP technology for these kinds of applications,” says Aaron Ettinger. Our company has a long-running history with Telex, and we’ve never had a Telex spec go bad. We’ve stayed on the leading edge together, providing our customers with the best solutions available.”
Cobalt’s trailer has four separate rooms, including a communications chief’s office equipped with a two-screen work station with C-Soft software, as well as Internet access and data capabilities. The office also has several ports where laptops or additional workstations can be added and room for three people to work comfortably.
Behind this office is the galley, with a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, and a networked copier, printer, and fax machine. Behind the galley is a 22-foot, three position dispatch area with three C-Soft-equipped Telex consoles, dual monitors, data capability, phone lines, and two networked printers. Each entrance to the dispatch area is protected with keypad coded entry. The fourth room in the trailer is another office area with keypad entry. The rear office features two 42-inch televisions – one linked to the trailer’s six external surveillance cameras. Although the trailer was originally designed for long-term fire disaster response, its extensive list of features and capabilities has also garnered praise and attention from nearby Alameda County law enforcement agencies:
“We’ve also showed the trailer to local law enforcement, and as a result the vehicle has even been on several SWAT deployments,” Knabe explains. “Recently, Alameda SWAT used the trailer’s surveillance system to help their negotiator on deployment, and the rear office allowed him to work in a closed-off environment while still being able to keep his eyes and ears on the streets to see what was going on outside. The surveillance system also features digital recording capability, which SWAT also used to record the audio and video of their deployment for evidence. It’s an incredibly useful vehicle.”
The front of the trailer features a 32-foot pneumatic mast with an auto-deploy satellite antenna, which brings in four different IP addresses for phones and data, with room to expand. The back end of the trailer features two 3.5-ton heat and air conditioning units and a sizable electrical box with outlets to expand surveillance capability or connect additional Cobalt trailers in a daisy-chain configuration.
The reaction to Cobalt’s new trailer has been overwhelmingly positive. With its unprecedented space and adaptability, every mission critical professional who uses the trailer comes away with a very positive response. The trailer is so innovative that new dispatchers are not responding to Cobalt’s vehicle as a communications trailer, but instead an actual Emergency Command Center (ECC). “We’ve got the first ECC on wheels!” says Knabe. “It’s like working at an office, not at a remote location in a small communications van.” The Mobile ECC also features mobile satellite live Web broadcasting capability, DirecTV, and a cache of laptops, printers, and IT equipment for any necessary expansion.
Recently, the Santa Clara County ECC was damaged by vandals who cut the county’s fiber-optic lines, downing phone systems county-wide. Cobalt’s new trailer was immediately sent to serve the Santa Clara Fire Department at their ECC in Morgan Hill and was able to get the county 11 phone lines and data capability within 90 minutes.
“All of our capabilities are at our fingertips or anyone else’s if they need it,” says Knabe. “This is a mobile ECC and more, really. Every time we take it out or showcase it, people love it. It’s amazing what we can do with this equipment.”
“We were honored to be part of making Cobalt’s groundbreaking mobile ECC design a success,” adds Ettinger. “We thrive on these kinds of unique projects, and Telex provides us the tools to ensure that success.”