Command Center 5-20-13 Radio Question

Elinor McLennon

We were out filming the Moore tornado on 5-20-13. Once it passed to our East we headed closer to the damage path to lend a hand. I got a call from a friend that said all first responders were needed at the Moore Command Center (Home Depot/Target) parking lot. We made it there and before long the parking lot was full of various rescue personnel from various agencies. A gentleman gathered up all medical and fire to give out orders. The first thing he wanted to know was how many of us had an 800mhz hand held radio.
There must've been 150 folks and not one of them raised their hand. They were standing there holding cell phones.
I was stunned when I realized that communications had not been secured. I just assumed that was the first thing that had to be established at a command center.
Also, there were conflicting reports about the location of the triage area. Nobody could deny or confirm anything because they couldn't communicate with anyone that wasn't in that parking lot. Again, several of us stood there just shaking our heads in disbelief. I was there for approx. 2 hrs before anyone was dispatched from that parking lot.
I'm not involved with any agency so I'm not sure how any of this works. I am not bashing anybody so please don't take it that way. I am just trying to understand in simple terms why the "breakdown" with communication? How does it work or how is it suppose to work during a mass casualty event?
Another question: EXAMPLE: can okc police communicate with moore police?
I have my ham radio license but as you can tell I barely passed the course:) Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Seriously, it was memorization that got me through. I appreciate the importance of communication but when it comes to how it works I'm at a loss. lol

Last, I'd like to give a shout out to all of those effected by the 2013 storm season. Yall are still in our thoughts and prayers.

Greg Higgins

Oct 10, 2006
Fort Worth, Texas
This is a shot in the dark since I wasn't there but based on my experience in the EMS / Fire arena and ICS. The first rule of a mass casualty incident is: DO NOT SELF RESPOND. It almost sounds like someone was thinking by "directing" folks to migrate to that parking lot. That way, there was a pool of folks who may or may not have a particular skill that might be required but because they were not with an agency that was already responding, may not have all the "tools" that would be required (i.e. communications, PPE, etc.) to operate in a hazardous area.

John Wetter

SN President
Staff member
Dec 11, 2005
Maple Grove, MN
I agree with Greg on this one. Self responders can be a huge issue. That question of who had an 800mhz radio was a good one as it would weed out any agency people who were there, but it sounds like they were all in the loop, so not at this parking lot. To me this sounds like it was executed as planned... Keep all the free agents in one place while the agencies within the plan could execute their portion of the response. Many of the 800mhz systems work the same and yes, they have talk groups, etc. for interagency communications but those channels are purposely kept to a minimum number of people as you get too many people on a channel, no one gets anywhere.

Elinor McLennon

Thanks for the responses but let me clarify something. The home depot/target parking lot was the command center and it was filled with fire trucks, ambulances, etc from various agencies. The only folks that were there that were NOT with an agency was me and about 5 nurses. I made it perfectly clear that I only showed up because of the media saying they needed ALL first responders. I also made it perfectly clear that if I wasn't needed it wouldn't hurt my feelings and that i didn't want to be in their way.
I was told medical folks were needed at the triage. The triage that could never be found cause of the lack of communications. Last, those folks without a radio were the ones that were with agencies. That's what confused me. They sent these people out into neighborhoods for search and rescue but they had no way to report back to command????? It just don't seem right.