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How Anderson County EMA increased situational awareness during critical incidents

Why the agency finds this equipment more beneficial than drones

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The Anderson County Emergency Management Agency in Tennessee deployed The RATT as their incident command post during the Rocky Top wildfire to monitor the fire’s activity.

Critical Tech Solutions

In November 2023, the Rocky Top wildfire burned nearly 400 acres of dense forest in Anderson County, Tennessee, threatening 52 homes and 43 outbuildings. It challenged firefighters with furious flames due, in part, to drought conditions in the area.

Yet after only a few days, every building was saved, and the fire was 100% contained thanks to the cooperation between first responders and the Anderson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). What made the difference? Brice Kidwell, director at the EMA, credits part of their success to the use of technology.

During the fire, the EMA deployed The RATT – a vehicle hitch-mounted mobile surveillance tower that can be extended up to 30 feet in the air – at an incident command post. Acting as “eyes in the sky,” The RATT helped monitor the fire’s activity while providing some reassurance.

“I think it was very well appreciated during the wildfires,” said Kidwell. “It gave them a sense of peace knowing they could see the changing of the smoke and how the fire started to slowly die down over a three-day period.”

Critical incidents like the Rocky Top wildfire aren’t uncommon in Anderson County, an area that’s made up of several small towns and a vast swath of rural land. The EMA partners with first responders during any natural or man-made disaster that occurs within the county, which is home to two nuclear facilities as well, making equipment like The RATT a valuable tool.


Kidwell and the team at the Anderson County EMA do more than assist with critical incidents – they’re also tasked with ensuring surveillance and safety during public events. They’ve made it a priority to focus on “soft targets and crowded places” and were looking for ways to bolster their efforts.

The EMA had purchased P25 radios from Critical Tech Solutions, makers of The RATT, and formed a strong relationship with that team. At a local conference, Kidwell and those at Critical Tech Solutions struck up a conversation and began talking about how The RATT mobile surveillance tower could help the EMA meet its technology needs.

“I thought, ‘I want one of those, but I don’t have the funding for that,’” explained Kidwell. “Last year, it came up that we were behind the ball on one of our grants and forgot about it. I had the perfect amount of money to purchase The RATT, so it fit into the plan perfectly.”

Initially, some at the EMA were confused about the benefits the new equipment would bring, imagining it to be a small camera the size of a rat. Once Kidwell demonstrated the versatility of The RATT, excitement within the agency grew.

Unlike large camera trailers, The RATT weighs in at only 100 pounds and can be towed by any vehicle outfitted with a class 3 2”x2” hitch receiver. Deployable in just a few minutes by one person, The RATT can be used with cameras for mobile surveillance or outfitted with an antenna to boost signal strength in a given area. When seconds matter during a critical incident, The RATT makes it easy to pack up and go as all electronics are housed in one Pelican IP67 case.


The RATT has been deployed at a variety of events in Anderson County, including a seven-day fair and a fireworks show during a July 4th celebration. In many instances, the EMA will coordinate with local police departments to align surveillance efforts to ensure attendee safety and use the camera tower as a criminal deterrent.

Unfortunately, during one county fair, there was a report of a missing child. “Once it went out over the radio, we were able to move the camera around slowly trying to see if we could find the missing child on there,” said Kidwell. Had the EMA not been using The RATT, a boots-on-the-ground approach would’ve been deployed, which doesn’t always produce results in a short amount of time.

The EMA can’t always rely on their drone, either, as it can come with challenges. “I wouldn’t use our drone in that instance,” explained Kidwell. “I think it would have been too much to fly over the top of people and take the chance of the battery dying for some unforeseen circumstance.”

Kidwell goes on to share that using a drone can be challenging compared to the versatility of The RATT. Not only does a dedicated and experienced person need to be available to pilot a drone, but airspace restrictions, nighttime or inclement weather all make drones a less feasible option.

“It’s more frustrating to have to deal with those hurdles than it is to put a camera pole on the back of the vehicle,” he said. “If you need to leave it overnight you can just leave the vehicle or you can set it up on a tripod. It just makes more sense.”

The RATT also provides a livestream view of a wide area compared to what’s visible with a drone. First responders aren’t really getting the full picture of what’s going on with a drone, says Kidwell.


The Anderson County EMA hopes to expand its adoption of The RATT mobile surveillance tower in the future as it has proven to be valuable in a range of situations. From public events and intelligence gathering to providing situational awareness during emergencies, uses for The RATT are endless.

“I know of one county that’s using it during a DUI checkpoint to watch their officers and keep an eye on everything,” said Kidwell. “For anything that you feel like you need a camera on, just attach it to the back of a vehicle and you’re there.”

Visit Critical Tech Solutions, makers of The RATT.

This versatile surveillance solution provides lasting benefits
This “eyes in the sky” equipment helps boost safety for community members

Courtney Levin is a Branded Content Project Lead for Lexipol where she develops content for the public safety audience including law enforcement, fire, EMS and corrections. She holds a BA in Communications from Sonoma State University and has written professionally since 2016.