Emergency vehicle given workout

September 09, 2004, vol. 31, no. 6
By Marianne Meadahl

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Officials monitoring the forest fire-threatened Boston Bar area on Aug. 19 called SFU communication professor Peter Anderson saying the situation was turning dangerous.

Anderson immediately headed to the area in a new emergency communication vehicle designed to provide complete mobile assistance to disaster areas.

The journey could have provided the first true test of the vehicle's wide range of capabilities. But Anderson wasn't disappointed to return to the Lower Mainland just a few days later, after the weather turned damp, causing the forest fire situation to improve.

“There were residents on evacuation alert due to the nearby forest fires, and for a time, the situation appeared critical,” he says. “It was good news when things changed.”

The journey did provide the researchers who designed the advanced mobile emergency communications vehicle, referred to as the AMEC prototype, with a chance to test some of its versatile capabilities in a real emergency. The final stage of work on the vehicle should be completed by October.

“During the recent call-out we were able to quickly provide critical communications support for the B.C. provincial emergency program and office of the fire commissioner and, if required, would have provided the communications support for a community emergency operations centre that was being established in Boston Bar,” says Anderson.

He is an expert in emergency communication, who spent much of last summer working behind the scenes in B.C.'s fire-stricken Interior and assessing the province's emergency communication needs. Since last summer he and colleague Stephen Braham have been involved in designing and planning the vehicle in SFU's telematics research lab.

The vehicle can rapidly provide advanced communication systems to both urban and remote locations that have been damaged by natural disasters. It will also enable researchers to test a variety of communication technologies in extreme and remote environments.

Equipped with its own satellite dish, wireless internet and phone capabilities, the vehicle can also vertically extend a remote camera 30 feet in the air to capture images that might indicate fire damage or direction or other information critical to hazard sites.

Western Economic Diversification Canada is providing $450,000 toward the project.

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