SCE Goes Mobile to Respond to Emergencies

The mobile command center gives the utility an office in the field to better coordinate responses to fires, rainstorms, earthquakes and other major events.

When Jim Madia responded to the Erskine Fire in Kern County two years ago, he was ready to put Southern California Edison’s mobile command center into immediate action.

The 40-foot-long vehicle operates as an office on wheels, providing workspace and remote communications for field personnel to provide a quicker response to fire, rainstorms, earthquakes and other major events.

What no one counted on that day was that a telecommunications tower was one of the first things to go down in the fire, interrupting phone and digital service throughout the Kern Valley. The mobile command center’s communications slowed to a crawl.

Mobile Command Center
SCE’s mobile command center was dispatched to Forest Falls after a snowstorm in the San Bernardino Mountains in 2016 caused a major outage. 

“The mobile command center then was designed around rooftop satellite,” recalled Madia, now an SCE emergency response exercise specialist. ”We just didn’t have the bandwidth.”

Since then, the mobile command center has been enhanced to provide a full range of telecommunications capabilities, including a Wi-Fi signal onboard and for the immediate area as well as a portable case with a receiver that can create a remote hot spot for internet access out in the field.

“There’s always been a need to have some ability to go anywhere in the service territory and establish an office or service center,” said Steven Oda, SCE principal manager of Business Resiliency. “This allows a better integration of technology to help speed restoration.”

Mobile Command Center
SCE staff coordinate restoration work inside the mobile command center at PG&E's staging site after the Santa Rosa fire last year.

It gives our customers peace of mind that the company is out there working to get their power turned on.

Pedro Ruiz, SCE

Based in Alhambra, the mobile command center is outfitted with two 15-foot slideouts and provides about 440 square feet of workspace. There are six workstations for both laptop and desktop and satellite phones. Extra mobile radios also are available. Office equipment includes a printer, scanner and FAX. 

“It provides the resources to people in the field that they would otherwise find in the office,” said Pedro Ruiz, SCE’s Emergency Operations Center manager who also oversees the mobile command center.

One advantage of dispatching the mobile command center, Ruiz said, is that its distinctive yellow, green and white SCE paint and logo make it easily identifiable.

“Laydown yards can be pretty hectic,” Ruiz said. “That makes it really easy for anyone who needs us to find us.”

That visibility also makes it easy for the public to locate. In January 2016, after a major snowstorm left the mountain community of Forest Falls without power, the mobile command center set up with SCE customer service staff in an open field off Highway 38 to provide emergency supplies and information to customers.

Ruiz said just having a physical presence in communities affected by a wildfire, storm or other event proves valuable.

“It gives our customers peace of mind that the company is out there working to get their power turned on,” Ruiz said.