The “strike team” is a long-used concept to describe a group of individuals and/or vehicles dedicated to a particular purpose. For instance an Ambulance Strike Team usually consists of five ambulances with two medics each. A collection of strike teams is usually called a Task Force.
Although long in use in the fire service, particularly in wildland fires, the need for purpose-specific teams to travel away from their home agencies to provide services in a distant location was vividly illustrated during the 2005 Katrina storm in New Orleans.
Many law enforcement agencies are considering, or have already begun to form, law enforcement strike teams that can provide backup and relief for police agencies in other states. EMS providers have been studying and preparing to provide EMS care and transportation during "surge events" with thousands of patients.
Historically strike teams have relied upon the mobile radios already installed in each vehicle (e.g. ambulance, fire apparatus, police car) with a handheld radio for the strike team leader. Although this was never viewed as adequate by participants with actual experience, it was nearly a complete failure in the Katrina response due to the scale of the problem (number of strike teams, the size of the Area of Operations) and the diversity of the response.
For instance, American Medical Response, one of the largest provider of ambulance services in the U.S. sent more than 100 ambulances to Katrina, but nearly none of the 100 ambulances had compatible radios.
Strike teams and task forces should be equipped with basic operability, that is the ability to communicate within the strike team or the task force, but even with basic operability, interoperability is also desired so that strike teams can join together from different home agencies to form a single task force... and so that strike teams can communicate with the local jurisdiction they are assisting.
We have a simple and direct recommendation for our clients with strike teams: plan on bringing your own communications equipment and prepare to use it independently of any other communications infrastructure provided at the scene.
Specifically we tell them to:
- Acquire mobile radios for each vehicle and permanently install them. These radios should be capable of wideband, narrowband, and digital P25 operating modes on a per-channel basis and should not be a trunking radio. Choose VHF, UHF or 800 MHz, but be consistent within the strike team. VHF is a good choice for range over varied terrain.
- Acquire handheld radios for each member in the strike team. These should be on the same band as the vehicle radios. See our
Handhelds for Strike Teams for more on this issue.
- Install simple interoperability switch in each vehicle that permits the operator to use a headset rather than a hand microphone (in strike team deployment there will be even more multi-tasking imposed on personnel than in a typical duty assignment), and permits patching of two mobile radios, so that the vehicle can serve as a repeater for the portable radios. This is necessary because in incidents that require Strike Teams, by their very nature the strike team personnel will often work away from the vehicle but need communications with their colleagues and other responders.
- Use IP Radio technology for
communications between the team and the EOC, or even the home agency by installing a cellular broadband (internet) modem and interface in the Strike Team leader's vehicle or the Task Force leader’s vehicle.
- Extend the operational area for the team via a
Tactical Bridge for which we encourage you to download our Best Practices document.
- Develop a written Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the use of the Strike Team communication system
This configuration is not as exotic or expensive, since some of the equipment could be the existing radio equipment in the vehicles. In fact, there is an advantage in the radio equipment being the same used in normal duty, as the team members will be familiar with the equipment.
Our recommendations here are consistent with the bring-your-own philosophy, providing an additional measure of situational awareness and safety to each team member.
We have designed and implemented these systems for our clients, and would be happy to talk about what it would take for your agency.
Request more information on this solution