SDG&E Unveils Mobile Satellite ‘Command’ Centers

By Published On: April 6, 2012

In a move to stay ahead of the disaster management curve, San Diego Gas & Electric unveiled new mobile emergency centers and satellite phone booths April 2. They can operate off the grid and move as needed to gather information and perform direct response work. SDG&E said it would share the mobile units with local agencies and the Red Cross, should the need arise in the event of wildfires, earthquakes, or other emergencies. “Through collaboration with county, fire, and local officials,” stated David Geier, utility vice president of electric operations, “we can implement programs that promote emergency preparedness and encourage safety.” The utility purchased two of the mobile command centers--which look like a recreational trailer about 20 feet long. The $185,000 apiece units have onboard propane generators, mobile radio systems, video cameras, and advanced satellite communications systems for internet, phone, data, and video. “It’s like a little hot spot,” explained Allison Zaragosa, utility spokesperson. She said that three separate satellite phone booths can be moved on trucks and used in conjunction with the command centers or placed in separate locations. They connect to the Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon cell phone networks. The satellite communications systems in both the command centers and phone booths are designed to maintain communications when local telephone and cell phone networks fail, as happened during a massive power outage late last summer that left 5 million people in the dark in San Diego and Imperial counties, part of Arizona, and Baja California (Current, Sept. 9, 2011). Several agencies still are investigating the cause of the massive regional power failure--which appeared to start in Yuma, Arizona. Zaragosa could not say when the inquiries are expected to be completed. Lawmakers later lauded SDG&E’s response to the crisis, which emphasized communications with customers through local news media, social media, and door-to-door visits for those with special medical needs. In hearings on a massive outage in greater Los Angeles late last year, lawmakers heard that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power followed a similar communications strategy to the one SDG&E used in the earlier outage. In counterpoint, lawmakers also listened to local officials blast Southern California Edison for its comparative lack of communications during the outage, which went on for days in the wake of the damage caused by a hurricane-force wind storm (Current, Feb. 10, 2012).

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