Due to a generous $70,000 grant from the Ford Motor Company, deeply discounted outfitting by Vandoit Adventure Vans, in-kind equipment donations and private funding, the newest fleet vehicle in the Kansas and Western Missouri Division is ready to assist The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) unit. This group of volunteer amateur radio operators provides emergency communications between Salvation Army posts, and if necessary, can pass messages regarding health and welfare to the public.
While the Ford Transit Cargo Van might look unassuming, the interior has been transformed into a mobile communications vehicle over the past two and a half years. It accommodates three separate radio setups and can hook up with cell phone services and the internet. Virtually every type of communication can take place including VHF, UHF, digital — even Morse code. Depending on the power of the radios, SATERN volunteers can talk to people all over the country, and if permission is granted to transmit to a larger tower, they can talk with people worldwide.
There are also six radio antennas located on top of the vehicle. They raise up and are lowered with the push of a button, which offers safety and convenience. It eliminates the need to stop the truck, get out, climb a ladder and physically unbolt the antennas before each use.
Personal and professional input of several SATERN members was sought during the planning and design process for this vehicle. Their feedback resulted in a self-contained communications hub that can be driven and placed near an incident command center and is fully functional upon arrival. This vehicle will primarily be used to keep in touch with mobile canteens when they are in the field, especially when cell towers are not working following a disaster. By pairing a SATERN operator with each canteen, it will be easier to identify, coordinate and allocate resources to meet changing needs during an emergency.
“Our SATERN guys and gals are awesome. They do a tremendous job helping us out with communications, and when they are stationed with a canteen, they even jump in to help make sandwiches, serve food and provide emotional/spiritual support,” said John Callahan, Divisional Emergency Services Disaster Director.
It was the SATERN volunteers who discovered Vandoit Andventure Vans, a company that exclusively outfits Ford transits and was willing to take on the customization aspects of this project. They specialize in constructing off-grid adventure camper van converters, so they knew how to safely add different voltage to the vehicle and utilize a green power source to run everything. This communications vehicle can be plugged in and outfitted with solar panels in the future.
“We don’t need a generator…that’s just amazing,” said Callahan. “Generators are high maintenance if you don’t run them all the time or take care of them properly. Vandoit sure brought something unique to the table along with a sturdy, stable and flexible design. We can even switch things up by raising, lowering and moving things to different places. We were so fortunate to work with them on this project.”About The Salvation Army