There’s a little piece of Webster Outlying Field in all 50 states.
Whenever a state’s Civil Support Team (CST) is called into action, one of the vehicles they use is a blue truck called a Unified Command Suite — and all of those trucks are outfitted, updated and serviced at Webster Outlying Field in St. Inigoes, Md.
Nick Creswell, systems manager with Webster’s Special Communications Requirements Division, described the UCS vehicle as a self-contained, stand alone mobile communications platform that can provide on-site voice, video and data communications capabilities.
“It arrives and sets up a satellite reachback and acts as a central hub for all communications for the Civil Support Team and other government authorities,” he said.
CSTs are units of the National Guard deployed during emergencies and incidents of weapons of mass destruction terrorism; intentional and unintentional release of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosives; natural or man-made disasters that result in catastrophic loss of life or property; or as a cautionary measure during large public gatherings. For example, CSTs were present during hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Super Bowl, both national political conventions and the presidential inauguration.
“UCS equipment provides the on-site capability to tie different radio networks together to facilitate the flow between different organizations and agencies,” Creswell said, “and it can also provide secure and non-secure network access for FBI agents or local first responders to get out on the Internet and do what they need to do.”
Working on behalf of the National Guard and other external sponsors, Creswell’s team does everything from assisting with the financial aspect of the UCS and acquisition of the trucks, to engineering design and analysis, program planning and management, lifecycle sustainment and logistics.
The truck bodies are outfitted at Webster Field with both commercial and government off-the-shelf technology.
“We’ll take the best of any one product and select the right components to go on the truck, repackaging them into the correct configurations,” Creswell said. “We’ll integrate them, test them, and bring them together as a turnkey solution. We’re hired to build a complete system, certify it, and make sure it’s safe and suitable before turning [the vehicle] over to its actual operator.”
Creswell’s team also provides a 24/7 help desk and, when a call comes in about a problem, staff manning the desk must quickly determine which component needs to go to the site to fix the situation.
“If it’s routine, the component will ship the next day via Federal Express,” Creswell explained. “If it’s urgent, it will be driven to the airport and put on a plane. If it’s extremely urgent, one of our staff will physically travel with the part and deliver it to the CST team on site.”
With technology constantly improving and changing, it’s necessary to keep the trucks relevant by doing some sort of modernization every 18 to 24 months and Creswell said every truck will eventually rotate back through Webster Field for upgrade.
“The commercial industry around us changes quickly and in order to remain relevant and operable with police, fire, FBI and other government agencies, we have to update the technology on board to stay right there with them, or we couldn’t talk with them on their networks,” he said.
Jerry Cathey served on the 61st CST from Arkansas for 10 years and now works as a government contractor. Cathey was involved in major incidents such as Hurricane Katrina and the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia over Texas.
“In addition to providing all of the communications capabilities required by the CST, the UCS can bridge the communications capabilities of the first response community by allowing whoever needs to communicate to be able to communicate,” Cathey said. “If someone needs to talk to someone on their cell phone from a radio; it can make that happen. It can allow a hand held radio to talk with a helicopter hovering overhead. It provides television service so responders on scene can see what’s going on around them. It provides Internet to track where patients are being sent. It’s like the network closet at the end of the hallway that can do just about anything.”
Creswell credits the program’s success to the people who make it work.
“We have just the right mix of government employees, contractors and leadership here in the division,” he said. “Because of our people and structure — the way the contracts are set up, our personnel approach and the job’s mission — we can move quickly and at a reasonable cost.”