Riverside, CALIF. --
After a major disaster strikes is not the time to discover a glitch in radio communications. To prevent this from happening, more than 20 Southern California first responder agencies gathered at the Ben Clark Training Center last Thursday for the Third Annual Multi-Agency Communications Interoperability Test.
Representatives from March Air Reserve Base first responder agencies were present as well, including 452nd Bioenvironmental Engineering and Public Health, 452nd Emergency Management Flight, 452nd Communications Squadron and the March Field Fire Department. The 452nd Security Forces Squadron participated remotely.
"In the case of a major disaster, we have a national communication plan in place that enables brother and sister first responder agencies to talk with each other on predetermined channels," said Barry Cannon, 452nd Communications Squadron personal wireless communication systems and land mobile radio manager. "But just because there is a plan doesn't mean it's going to work when it's needed."
At the test on Friday, Riverside County Sheriff's Department tested the communication plan by leading a radio roll call with the participating agencies on each of 30 designated radio frequencies.
"The biggest benefit of conducting the test is knowing that our communication plan will work when we need it. Being together in one location allows us to make adjustments on the spot," said Cannon, who represents March at monthly Riverside County Communications Interoperability Committee meetings.
Airmen from the emergency management flight towed their emergency communications trailer to the Ben Clark Training Center for the test and parked it alongside approximately two dozen other mobile command stations.
First-time interoperability test participant, Airman 1st Class David Adolfo, compared the site to a "mobile communications car show."
Some of the mobile command stations at the site were slick, custom-made control centers that extended from the backs of pickup trucks, while others were behemoth RVs with expandable side panels. Like a car show, the members of the various agencies toured one another's vehicles and compared notes.
"Some of the equipment we've seen out here today might be optimal for the fire department, law enforcement and medical," said Cannon. "We're going to look at making recommendations up the chain of command to acquire some of this for our first responders."
Equipment suggestions were not all that was exchanged on Thursday at the test, which is nicknamed "Radio Rodeo." Networking is a secondary purpose of the rodeo, and a pizza lunch following the morning's checks encouraged socializing.
"Having the ability to meet our counterparts is a big benefit because you're able to swap ideas about how we do things in the military and see how they do things on the civilian side," Cannon said. "Exchanging ideas helps enhance everyone's ability to do their jobs."
Rodeo first-timer Airman Adolfo agreed.
"It's an opportunity for us all to meet and know who we'll be working with in the future, if a large-scale emergency occurs," he said.
Airman Adolfo, who is an emergency management specialist, described the rodeo as "informative."
"It shows me what capabilities are out there and what capabilities are required to make a mission successful," he said. "Here, we can see what one another brings to the table and how we can partner to get a mission accomplished."
Participants in the 2011 rodeo included California Highway Patrol, California Emergency Management Agency, San Marcos Fire Department, Riverside County Fire Department and several Southern California police departments.
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