Command and Control element- you either have it or you don’t succeed. Check out parts 1, 2, and 3. -NCS
We have covered mission and operational planning in the previous articles. Now let’s talk about setting up the TOC and what we need. The basic concepts work for any size, it’s just a matter of scale and mission requirements.

The Map Board

The map board is the heart of the TOC. It lets the staff instantly see where deployed elements are, opposing forces are reported, control lines, and a plethora of other information relevant to the control of the operations underway.
First is an example of a vehicle or fixed map board. While not the only way to it, it is one way to organize your information. The mission and commander’s intent are clearly displayed, equipment and personnel status, and ongoing operations and reports gathered.
Next is an example of a tactical map board that can be carried for a smaller or fast-moving operation. This would be a tactical map board used for infantry operations or by a vehicle commander.

And the next two pictures are examples of fire department command boards and small command post set up in the back of a command vehicle. Maps for an emergency incident are generally hand drawn onto the board and not as detailed as preprinted maps. They are usually general building or street layouts to manage an incident.
The center of the board is the map. With the focus of this article, let’s assume you need to control multiple elements over a wide geographic area. While I love military maps, those are a little difficult to obtain. USGS maps are an easy substitute and can be printed with a grid coordinate system (link). When producing and using maps, make sure that:

  1. Everyone has the correct map sheets
  2. Maps are all the same scale. 1:24,000, 1:50, 000, 1:100,000. Pick one and stick with it.
  3. Everyone is using the same coordinate system, i.e., UTM, MGRS, Lat/Long, etc.

These should all be SOP points and worked out well beforehand during training to see what works best. My personal preference is maps with 1:50,000 since is gives good detail while not being too large of a sheet to deal with, especially when the map is made of multiple map sheets taped together. I also prefer the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) since that is what I grew up with and have the most experience with. YMMV.5

Map Overlays

Map overlays allow you to add and subtract layers of information to your situation map and help to provide the fast production of additional copies to distribute to appropriate levels. A map overlay is generally made of a sheet of acetate, a clear plastic, that can be purchased by the roll and portions cut as needed. It should be thick enough to be durable and not easily torn, but thin enough to be light and flexible. An example here. When I was running an Army TOC, we would carry large rolls of this mounted above the map board to easily pull sheets and make copies for operations. We generally ran through 1-2 rolls per ARTEP, while REFORGER needed 4 rolls.
Some examples of overlays:

  • Current operations overlay
  • Future operations overlay
  • Engineer/obstacle overlay
  • Air defense overlay
  • Air support and artillery overlay
  • Maneuver/no-go box overlay (for sniper teams or SOF)
  • NBC/CBRNE overlay
  • Logistics overlay
  • Medical overlay (MEDEVAC routes, casualty collection points, treatment facilities, etc.)

The point behind overlays is:

  1. To keep the amount of information on the map at usable levels. You could put everything on the map, but then you get overwhelmed by drowning in detail.
  2. Ensuring that the elements (both subordinate/higher/coordinating) have the relevant information they need, without potentially compromising information they don’t.

An excellent tutorial on overlays is at the Army Study Guide website.


How many radios do you need? The answer to that question is how many nets are you running and how many can you monitor? We are not building an Analysis and Control Element (ACE), this is a Tactical Operations Center. Different focus, different mission. An ACE would be run by the S-2/Plans sections and gathers information to turn into intelligence. We are conducting and supporting operations.
Some options for radio nets could be:

  1. Command net for use of element commanders and passing maneuver orders
  2. Operations net for use of element planning and additional information needed to not tie up the Command net
  3. Intelligence net to pass information gathered to the ACE/S-2 for processing. Could be combined with the Operations net as an O&I channel
  4. Logistics net for log reports and requests, coordinating LOGPACs and resupply
  5. Admin net for personnel and finance management, including replacements
  6. Medical net for MEDEVAC missions
  7. Fires net for artillery and close air support

The civilian equivalents would be the dispatch channel, various tactical or fireground channels, hospital telemetry, etc.
You need enough channels to conduct your missions. Not more, not less. This is part of SOI development. An example of a form used to organize this is the ICS-205 form.

As for how many radios do you need running, the answer is it depends. How much equipment do you have vs. how many trained radio operators and how many channels they can effectively monitor at a time vs. how big of electronic footprint you’re willing to create. Public safety and Big Army have gotten very lazy and sloppy with radio traffic. Ham radio operators are arguably worse because everyone treats the radio like a cell phone. It’s not. The longer you talk, the bigger of a magnet you are for incoming artillery fire. Public safety has always been terrible for radio traffic with plenty of unnecessary language and speech. My personal favorites that make me want to choke someone are “be advised” and “at this time”. This just adds into the workload of the radio operators in the TOC or elements in the field because you must pay attention to the message to sort the nuggets of gold out of the pile of crap coming across. At a minimum, I would advise a Command net, O&I net and a Log net. That is three radios/antennas and 1-3 operators depending on the situation.


Laptops and tablets are great additions to the TOC, useful for storing information, running digital comms, etc. Do not fall into the trap of becoming reliant on them, treat them as an adjunct. Information stored on them can also become intelligence for the adversary if captured, and if your operation hinges on their use, what happens if it runs out of power, breaks, or gets EMP’d? Thoughts to consider.
Dry erase boards for status updates and information and white boards for briefings are always a good way to go, both for ease of use and security.