A Command Training Center for Multiple Agencies: A Capstone Project

To complete the Masters of Emergency Services Administration program at California State University, Long Beach, Ray Melendrez (Oceanside Fire Department Administration personnel) and I created a capstone project team that embarked on a collaborative undertaking with the Oceanside Fire Department in Oceanside, California. A capstone project is a large project intended to be a tangible demonstration of knowledge gained in the program and of competence in the field. Our project pioneered taking a fire service concept and applied it to the larger Emergency Management field, creating a  fiscally conservative development plan.

Our specific capstone project was the planning phase for a Command Training Center (CTC) for the Oceanside Fire Department. A concept that has been used in the fire service, a CTC is a specific training facility that uses computer simulation software to train incident commanders with real-time and realistic incident simulations. These simulations allow decision makers to safely be “in charge” where they can practice and hone their decision making skills before having to perform these at an actual incident.

As we were brainstorming for this project, two major questions arose: Why does this have to be limited to the fire service? How are we going to realistically create this training facility, especially during a fiscally conservative time in California? To address these questions, we adjusted the project vision and research focus. The new project vision was to create a regional “All-Hazards, All-Agencies” CTC that could be implemented in a fiscally responsible way.

So how did we accomplish this new and non-traditional direction in our project?

1)  Creating a two-phase project
Phase 1, which was the focus of the capstone project, was the initial development and planning of the CTC. The objective was to develop a regional CTC that would not only enhance the training and operations at the Oceanside Fire Department but would improve regional emergency operations (in particular, the San Diego County North Zone Level). Phase 2 was the  implementation of the CTC. This phase would be led by the Oceanside Fire Department to ensure that the CTC truly fit their needs and resources.

2)  Incorporating emergency management concepts
By creating the “All-Hazards, All-Agencies” approach to the CTC, we were providing the opportunity for outside agencies to participate in the training facility and to work on their personnel’s incident command skills. This inclusion format also allowed for both fire and non-fire agencies to have the same type of incident command simulation training. To accomplish this, while still being fiscally responsible, the use of the Blue Card incident command certification training program was chosen. The intent was that as more money and resources became available, more hazard scenario software could be added to this training. This would also allow the Oceanside Fire Department to identify the best software for them and any other agencies participating in the area. The Blue Card incident command certification training was also chosen because this training supports fulfillment of a NIMS compliant curriculum and is considered NIMS certified for Type 4 and 5 incidents.

3)  Being as fiscally responsible as possible
This seemed like the hardest part of the project initially, but we were very lucky to have the amazing support and dedication of the Oceanside Fire Department. The CTC’s total initial cost was significantly reduced by the City of Oceanside and the Oceanside Fire Department donating an existing building within the fire training complex instead of requiring the development of a new building or renting a facility. The building was also pre-wired for internet and accessibility to the city’s intranet. Work station setup, computer equipment, technical upgrades, and scenario software were estimated to be approximately $25,000. The cost associated with fire personnel completing the train-the-trainer Blue Card Command Certification Program was estimated to be an additional $25,000. By developing more instructors, the Oceanside Fire Department would also have more opportunities to recoup some of the initial CTC costs because they could provide training services to outside agencies. The overall initial CTC cost was also greatly offset by the Oceanside Fire Department’s supportive administration reallocating $50,000 of their State Homeland Security Grant funding.

We also realized that the long-term funding of the regional CTC would be a hurdle to overcome. Methods were incorporated into the project that would offset the operational expenses and possibly lead to the CTC becoming a profitable venture. The main method we proposed were three categories of partnerships with other agencies: Member Organizations, Partner/Support Organizations, and Contract Organizations.

Member Organizations would be agencies and organizations that have a vested interest in the CTC and enter into an annual payment contract for a limited-use agreement for the CTC and training services. They would also have the greatest level of access and have some “partial ownership” of the CTC. Most likely, this category would include incident response agencies.

Partner/Support Organizations would be entities that support the management of the CTC through donations and resource sharing, such as upgrades to the building, supplies, monetary donations, etc. This category would include vendors or even local educational institutions.

Contract Organizations would involve limited term contracts that would be available for agencies in accordance with a fee schedule and availability.

By incorporating these three provisions into our capstone project, we were also able shorten the time frame of the project.

This forward-thinking project’s success was delivering a tailored  CTC development plan for the Oceanside Fire Department that incorporated participation from  regional agencies.  The CTC would not have been successful if we had not had all the initial buy-in, support, and dedication of the Oceanside Fire Department’s administration and personnel. From their collaboration and input during our capstone team’s planning phase to implementing the CTC, they have truly taken ownership, put in countless volunteer hours and hard work and continued to make steady progress toward the project’s vision.


Author: Dawn Essenmacher, Emergency Management Associate