With The Emergency Services Show (ESS) postponed until April 2021, Emergency Services Times (EST)visited Excelerate Technology’s Tech Week event at its Cardiff HQ for a tour of the company’s latest incident command and control vehicle – developed for Hamad Medical Corporation, the principal public healthcare provider in Qatar – which would have formed the centrepiece of the Excelerate stand at ESS.
EST spoke to Thomas Reimann, Hamad Medical’s Executive Director of Healthcare Coordination and Support Service, who was in Cardiff to sign off the new vehicle.
Hamad Medical is leading the world in placing connectivity at the heart of its digital transformation strategy, enabling the best use of current and future technologies to improve command and control, situational awareness and ultimately patient care. Future connected fleets of all emergency services will need to follow a similar path to capitalise on the transformational capability of digital technologies.
“Our vision is to be the best in world paramedic and healthcare service. This drives our innovation and guides the solutions we adopt,” said Thomas Reimann.
The new 26-tonne Mercedes command and control vehicle is Hamad Medical’s latest of a total of five such vehicles and the second to be 26-tonne. The corporation also has a connected fleet of 220 smart ambulances, which support a nationwide data, voice and video streaming ecosystem and an unparalleled situation awareness capability.
With the FIFA World Cup being hosted by Qatar in November 2022, the new command and control vehicle has been designed for managing large scale public events. In day to day operation it also provides operational resilience with its ability to maintain connectivity even if all mobile networks go down.
Three Ford Transit based vehicles offer the same technological and connectivity functions, but without the integrated conference centre of the larger vehicles. The 26-tonne vehicle is suitable for multi-agency incidents where ambulance, police, fire and other agencies need to work together. The fleet can connect to each other, or function independently.
With the advent of the COVID pandemic Hamad Medical’s command and control vehicles have been used in communities as a point of contact and as an operational vantage point. They have been deployed 24 hours per day, seven days a week and Thomas Reimann expects the addition of this second 26-tonne vehicle to provide the organisation with a significant operational buffer.
“We want to ensure we are prepared for the FIFA World Cup when millions of people come to Qatar, putting extra pressure on the system,” Reimann comments. “But there are lots of other events in Qatar, so the World Cup is far from a single justification.
“Three years ago, we thought we had found the perfect solution, but how things have moved on since then. In use we identified a number of things that ideally needed changing.”
The new vehicle features a much higher level of automation, helping to make it much quicker and easier to deploy in the field. Innovative features include better stabilisation, electro-pneumatic steps, electric blinds, automated power cable reels and numerous other enhancements internally to create more operational flexibility, especially when used in multi-agency roles. Even the Mercedes next-generation cab comes with the driver’s mirrors being replaced with cameras.
“We have automated a lot of manual operations to make this new vehicle significantly quicker to deploy,” Reimann explains. “The two in and out access steps can be deployed automatically rather than needing to be manually extended and fixed. We have also changed the supports to provide greater stability for the vehicle. And we have improved many aspects of the technology, for example making it much easier to monitor the generator, a key piece of equipment in a hot country like Qatar.”
“This next-level of integration allows operational personnel to control, monitor and analyse every aspect of the vehicle with iPhone-like simplicity and ease of use.”
Further speeding up and easing rapid deployment of the vehicle is Excelerate’s Digital Dashboard Management Interface (DDMI), which controls the whole vehicle, including all the technology and ancillary equipment and power systems, such as generators and lighting. This next-level of integration allows operational personnel to control, monitor and analyse every aspect of the vehicle with iPhone-like simplicity and ease of use.
“The DDMI system has made it much easier for us to use the vehicle and to manage multiple aspects of the vehicle’s operation through its single dashboard, although the dashboard can be called up on any of the many screens as well as portable tablets,” Reimann says.
The vehicle also has an impressive armoury of additional kit, including vehicle-based 6m mast-mounted camera with 30x HD zoom and thermal imaging and rapidly deployable standalone self-powered dual SIM 4G/LTE cameras, also with 30x HD Zoom and thermal imaging. There is also a commercial grade highly resilient and rugged drone, suitable for long term usage and capable of carrying a large payload. This too has a versatile camera with high power HD zoom and thermal imaging. The drone can be piloted normally or tethered with a power and optical cable. The tethered option allows the operator to concentrate solely on image capture, and its power supply allows potentially unlimited flight times with no need to change batteries. Hamad Medical personnel working across its fleet are also equipped with resilient dual SIM body worn cameras.
“Video is invaluable for situational awareness,” Reimann explains. “From words alone commanders may get an incorrect impression and possibly underestimate the seriousness of an event and make the wrong decision. Video allows commanders to see something that a paramedic may not have mentioned or described.”
Inside the vehicle there is a comprehensive IT suite, equivalent to the data centre server room in a building-based control centre. There is an array of Excelerate ruggedised servers satisfying a significant IT requirement —the vehicle has seven operational controller positions, internal conferencing capability for up to 18 and two external briefing areas, one on each side of the vehicle. The racks also house Excelerate’s Rapidnet LTE network solution, Excelerate’s DDMI Server and its private, resilient and secure satellite connectivity solution and the ability to generate a dedicated Wi-Fi and 4G bubble network around the vehicle. It can also connect seamlessly with any existing network. Where possible, various devices, such as cameras, are dual SIM to give Hamad the option of using both Qatar’s public 4G network as well as Excelerate’s private 4G network for increased resilience, or as a failover.
Accommodation within the command and control vehicle includes two three-seat operational areas, one of which can be securely closed off with electronic privacy glass. There is a 17-seat conference area, including eight seats around a central table complete with pop-up USB and network connections for each user, and a large 85in screen, which can be configured to feature multiple video and data feeds. On the exterior of the vehicle are two large touchscreens, both of which are used for outdoor briefings to large groups.
Excelerate is the prime contractor for the new vehicle, taking full fiscal and legal responsibility for the whole project and taking a leading role in the overall design. The company is a leader in the development of this type of command vehicle, which has been used extensively at every large scale incident or event, with notable deployments at major global events, including the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, a NATO summit, The Ryder Cup, the British Grand Prix, The Gulf Football World Cup and numerous G8 and G20 Summits, and most recently the UK’s COVID-19 specific Nightingale Hospitals.
Both Hamad Medical and Excelerate are keen to stress the importance of collaboration in the development of this unique vehicle.
“Working in a commercial relationship with a partner like Excelerate is so important on a project like this,” Reimann says. “There is strong trust between us, and we can discuss anything. Together we can work out how to solve the issues that arise and work openly to prioritise funding. We can also discuss, plan and prepare for how the future will look.
“Another strength of our partnership with Excelerate is the ability to make changes outside the agreed set up. A strong and flexible partnership helps you to adapt to ever changing situations.”
“It is important to make sure your partner knows what you are trying to attain,” Reimann adds. “Solutions need to be practical for a paramedic and firefighter to use. For us it is also important to find a solution that benefits the patient, not just the Incident Commander.”
Preparation and experience of using this type of vehicle is the key to successful deployment, according to Reimann. He says, “When our first 26-tonne vehicle was delivered, we had to make sure it was used. Getting staff accustomed to how it works and how they can best utilise it, as well as discovering changes to make.
“You can’t wait for a major event to come along and then only deploy it at the time, that’s too late,” he adds. “So, we used it at smaller events like the desert races in Qatar where arguably it was a slightly over the top deployment, but it introduced use of the vehicle in a less stressful setting.”
For any emergency services deployment, a good support system is key, according to Reimann. He says, “Working in a hot climate, things happen, things go wrong. Hamad Medical cannot wait until the next morning or after the weekend, so 24/7/365 support is essential. Excelerate’s engineers located in Qatar are key for these solutions.
“Another strength of our partnership with Excelerate is the ability to make changes outside the agreed set up. A strong and flexible partnership helps you to adapt to ever changing situations. Hamad Medical needs to be able to adapt quickly in challenging circumstances.
“We have a mindset of what we want as an ambulance service, but if we didn’t collaborate with our partner the result would not have been the same,” Reimann is keen to emphasise. “You get a better product from collaboration than from dictation. As an ambulance service, we do not know all the technologies available and coming over the horizon. I would also say that if emergency services in European countries worked together closely the benefits would be greater. This would avoid disjoins in communications between services.”
Hamad Medical’s 220-strong fleet of smart ambulances features robust connectivity and the ability to generate Wi-Fi networks to support paramedics working outside. A well-equipped ambulance today could potentially have up to eight different SIM cards for connected devices such as defibrillators, other medical equipment, body worn cameras and vehicle telematics. Excelerate Excell domes, using one or two SIM cards installed on Hamad Medical’s smart ambulances, ensure the best performance within any cellular network by optimising the distance, speed and throughput of the connection. Reducing the number of SIM cards also saves cost.
“I am excited about our new 26-tonne vehicle, what it gives us and how it will improve our service. In my view it is world class,” Reimann concludes. “In my opinion there is no vehicle that matches this in technology and the layout to support the command and control system.
“What excites me further is it has been delivered as a solution that we can build on in future years. The vehicle is unique and can grow with the service.”