We all saw the images of FEMA's fleet of specialized trucks traveling along in a miles-long caravan during Hurricane Katrina. But for those of you who are interested in what exactly each truck was, here's a tour of FEMA's Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS).
The MERS mission is to "provide mobile telecommunications, operations support, power generation, and life support required for the on-site management of disaster response activities." The group falls under the Tactical Emergency Communications Branch of the Disaster Operations arm of FEMA. MERS provides communications options ranging from "fly-away packages" to tractor-trailers full of communications equipment.
The smallest vehicle option is the Incident Response Vehicle (IRV), which comes with a crew of 1-5 people and can support 10 more outside. The IRV is used as an incident command post for forward operations, with a videoconferencing room on the inside.
The basic version of the Mobile Emergency Operations Vehicle (MEOV) comes with a crew of 1–9 people, with 25 more outside. The MEOV is usually used as a mobile office for disaster recovery operations or an Incident Management Assessment Team (IMAT). The MEOV often comes in conjunction with a support vehicle for field operations.
The next size up is the MEOV - Kentucky, a tractor-trailer edition of the basic MEOV. It has the same capabilities, but supports a larger working crew of up to 12 FEMA employees on the inside.
The largest MEOV is the 82-foot-long Green Hornet, an even more tricked-out version of the Kentucky. Both sides of the truck expand to reveal an interior with room for up to 35 people. This is really FEMA's home-away-from-home.
Other vehicles include satellite trailers, mobile generator trucks, the Multi-Radio Van (MRV) that provides satellite connectivity for the MEOVs, and the Mobile Medical Unit that contains a diagnostic x-ray, clinical laboratory, pharmacy and minor surgery suite. (Perhaps in the future, Pengtao Yu's "U-Haul Emergency Response Conversion Kit" will find a place among emergency response equipment.)
The majority of MERS vehicles are transportable by the US Military's Air Mobility Command, decreasing the unit's response time and increasing its reach.
Dave Seliger is a Postgrad Fellow in Logistics and Ext Affairs at the NYC Office of Emergency Management. He has extensive experience helping firefighters, police officers, and disaster responders improve their services through design.