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I3 Upfitting - The Future Is Now

How the Installed, Integrated, Intelligent (I3) Upfit Improves Today’s Emergency Vehicle

By Matthew Ayers and Scott Coy


The emergency vehicle upfitting industry has evolved rapidly over the past half-decade.  The prime driver of this evolution has been the improved vehicle platforms offered by Chevy, FCA , and Ford. Additionally, we have seen the development of more sophisticated warning systems and intelligent controllers from manufacturers like Whelen, SoundOff Signal, and Federal Signal.  Comprehensive OEM  pre-wire options, offered by all police vehicle manufacturers, have also driven upfitting improvements.  Separately, any of these recent advancements make emergency vehicles upfits more reliable, more efficient, and safer. 

Together, they help fleets take things to the next level: the I3 upfit.



I3 upfitting involves three components: Installation, Integration, and Intelligence.  Installation is the process of taking non-OEM equipment and properly affixing it into or onto the vehicle.  At its most basic, this involves modification to the vehicle, specialized brackets or hardware, and the addition of electrical circuits.  Good installations begin with thorough planning.  Technicians must consider what potential impact the installation will have on workspace, ergonomics, vehicle performance, and safety systems.  The installed equipment must be durable and adequate for the task; too often we make decisions that only account for the costs of acquisition, versus the cost of ownership.  A good upfit provider will help you find a balance.

The second component of the I3 upfit is Integration, which is not the same thing as Installation.  Aftermarket equipment can be installed into a vehicle but not properly integrated with it.  Integration merges aftermarket warning systems with OEM vehicle systems in a way to increase the capabilities of the completed emergency vehicle, while improving the quality and efficiency of the upfit.  Integration includes the tie-in to vehicle electrical circuits and in some cases, mechanical components.  Today’s police vehicles enable integration though police package pre-wire options, console plates, and dedicated power distribution centers.  The newest, most promising integration trend is OBD-II interfacing.

The final I3 upfitting component, Intelligence, consists of how we use information for increased safety.  The intelligent upfit “knows” what is happening with the vehicle and uses programed parameters to inform warning system behavior and enable intelligent control of audible and visual signals.  Intelligence enhances reliability and offers improved diagnostics capability in the event of a malfunction.  The Intelligent component of the I3 upfit brings us to the current emergency vehicle state of the art, and provides the canvas for commonality, repeatability, 360-degree safety , and efficiency in our fleet.



The first step in any emergency vehicle upfit is acquisition.  This includes budgeting, specifying, bidding, and ordering a vehicle.  This is the most important step because a mistake here affects everything that follows.  You must be up to date on options and offerings to make the best financial decisions and to ensure you order the right aftermarket products.  OEM police package options range from basic pre-wiring to full installation through a factory-authorized upfit provider like Kerr Industries, Crown North America, or GFX.  You can accomplish a lot with smart ordering and save substantial time on the local upfit.  Some options might seem expensive, but consider the time saved, quality, level of fit and finish, warranty coverage, and consistency these options provide.

The next step is purchasing the right police vehicle equipment.  Keep it simple by ordering vehicle-specific mounts, brackets, partitions, consoles, and so on.  Trying to re-use older equipment may result in increased upfit cost, time, and poor results.  “Universal fit” products seldom fit anything correctly, neatly, and safely.  Consider the overall footprint and mounting of mobile office equipment, such as the computer or tablet, and peripherals.  Computer mounting solutions have steadily gotten better, and now are very vehicle and application specific; chances are there is a better, more ergonomic solution for your fleet.  Even simple things like USB ports, cupholders, armrests, and Magnetic Mic mounts make a major impact on the overall installation and keep end-users from making sketchy modifications.

Every upfit requires solid power sourcing, distribution, and management.  The first way to achieve this is installation of a layover, stand-alone power harness that is independent of the OEM wiring, PDCs, and fuses.  Companies like Kerr, Crown North America, MNStar, and others offer these products, most of which are fully independent past the vehicle battery.  The advantages are that these harnesses truly isolate the warning system and protect the vehicle’s wiring from overloads and other problems.  They can be standardized with constant wire colors and markings.  If you provide the manufacturer with a list of your intended equipment, they can build a “plug-n-play” harness for your needs.

The second way to solve for power is to utilize the dedicated OEM pre-wire up fitter circuits, assuming they are adequate for your task.  For example, Ford’s Police Interceptor Utility comes standard with a 100 amp rear battery power stud, three 40 amp, two 20 amp, and one 15 amp battery power circuits in the console area, and two 20 amp ignition power circuits, likewise in the console area.  A 20 amp delayed accessory feed, a 2 amp start circuit, and three ground leads are also there.  These circuits are enough for most police upfit needs, properly fused, and purpose built by the vehicle manufacturer, at no extra cost.  If your up fitter is not using these circuits, be sure they have a sound reason and are exceeding OEM quality and functionality.

Your upfit must guard against parasitic battery drains, a lesson learned the hard way by many fleet managers and technicians.  Voltage monitoring or ignition sensing timers and cutoffs are necessary in every police vehicle.  Even when “off” many of today’s sirens, lightbars, cameras, and chargers are all capable of draining a healthy battery over a weekend.  If your lightbar, siren, or their related interface modules have blinking LEDs even when off, consider that a power drain clue.  We have seen it with roof lightbars, interior lightbars, breakout boxes, and even some devices designed to monitor parasitic drain!  No matter how small the stand-by current is claimed to be, it is a constant depletion of voltage that must be prevented.  Upfront protection costs are much less than the costs of a couple of new batteries.



Police vehicle warning systems have four primary purposes: locate/identify the police vehicle, warn others of roadway hazards, request right of way, and signal violators to stop.  Any of these tasks can be rudimentarily accomplished with simple on/off switching of lights and siren.  However, environmental factors—weather, ambient lighting, roadway design, geography, traffic density, and competing visual and audible information— require our warning signals be tailored to each specific task for maximum effectiveness.  We want intuitive signals that help others determine our vehicle’s location, direction, speed, and purpose.  Warning system signals must be predictable and consistent, without relying on distracted officers to make changes.

The problem is that choosing the appropriate warning signals for any given task can require officers to make decisions and judgment calls…and mistakes.  Therefore, it is desirable that warning signals automatically adjust to the environment and task based on information obtained from the vehicle.  At any given moment, numerous signals are pulsing through modern vehicles, communicating between the Body Control Module (BCM) and major vehicle systems (brakes, restraints, steering, traction control, lighting, throttle, electrical).  Many of these signals are in response to environmental conditions and emergency vehicle driver actions.  I3 upfit Integration occurs when we capture this information for our use without compromising the vehicle’s CANBUS network.

Using vehicle information to adjust warning signals automatically accomplishes intelligent control.  But how do we get these signals or find this information?  In the past, we would have to locate the exact vehicle wiring circuit that had the information we need, determine how the signal was designed, and then connect our warning system to it.  There could be a dozen such desirable signals in any vehicle, and them is difficult and very time consuming.  Cutting and splicing wires can lead to BCM damage, void warranties, or interfere with vehicle system functions.  Upfitters tend to shy away from this work and choose economy and simplicity over features and capability.

While older warning systems had limited ability to use multiple vehicle input signals and upfitters commonly connected only the “park kill” and “horn ring” signals, modern intelligent warning system controllers can accommodate multiple imported signals.  The recent introduction of the Whelen’s simple Carbide CANport™ “plug and play” OBD-II connection, and SoundOff Signal’s bluePRINT® OBD-II interface gives us easy access to those vehicle inputs.  Both provide access to numerous different vehicle signals, each of which can affect warning system changes, and both can accommodate additional input signals from the vehicle’s upfitter pre-wiring or from auxiliary devices such as cameras.

All this information is already there, requires no splicing into vehicle wiring, won’t void warranties, and is reliable.  Moreover, Whelen’s and SoundOff Signal’s OBD-II interfaces are purpose-built and engineered specifically for police applications.  They offer a “one stop” solution while reducing installation time and component wiring.  If you are using another manufacturer’s product with multiple input capability, such as Federal Signal’s SmartSiren® Platinum, or reusing an older control system, there is still an OBD-II solution for you.  Intermotive’s Upfitter Interface Module provides numerous inputs from the OBD-II interface and versatile logic programming to assist in controlling warning systems and other devices.



Once the warning system is installed and integrated, we move to the Intelligent component of the I3 upfit.  Intelligence is accomplished through programming, and pre-informing the warning system how to behave based on manual switching and automatic inputs.  Most manufacturers offer networked, programmable control systems and lightbars.  However, to accomplish intelligent control of warning signals most effectively, a logic-based controller is required.  Whelen Engineering’s CanTrol or Carbide system and SoundOff Signal’s bluePRINT system currently provide the most comprehensive, fully intelligent, networked, logic-based control or warning signals.  Each has numerous configurable inputs and outputs, and synchronized flash patterns for all connected lightheads.

Programming starts with planning, and you should consider the way in which your police vehicles are currently being used, how you ideally want them utilized, and how the warning system might add to or detract from a given situation.  What mobile tactical problems do your officers routinely face?  Traffic stops, pursuits, crash scenes, and nighttime scene lighting for example, all have different lighting and/or siren needs.  Environmental factors come into play for each of these, as well; at night, you should prioritize officer visibility over vehicle conspicuity.  Above all, think 360-degree safety when programming; imagine how a situation can be enhanced for the benefit of the officer and others.

Use the basic warning system purposes previously discussed as a basis for the manual switching the officer will use to “turn on” the warning system.  Manual switching should be simple—lights on, siren on— and once “on” the intelligent system will adapt based on the automatic inputs and programming.  For example, the officer can decide to have the lighting activated, and the vehicle speed input can auto-adjust flash patterns to communicate urgency as speed increases, or add white light at higher speeds while changing siren tones.  The warning system can auto dim warning lighting based on the headlights being on combined with a park input.  The upfitter’s ability to add functionality is nearly endless.

We recommend using the slide switch for the basic “on” functions.  Position or Mode 1 is the simple “on” needed for basic identification and location needs.  Mode 2 would be a traffic stop mode.  Mode 3 would be a response mode, with siren and full lighting activation.  Each mode can have unique features, for example, Mode 2 could auto-unlock the shotgun for 45 seconds, activate takedowns, and turn on rear amber lighting when the officers shifts the vehicle into park.  How about using the brakes to change siren tones in Mode 3?  Or the highbeam switch to blast intersections with white light and low frequency siren tones?  Or cutting rear lights when breaking during a pursuit?

With intelligent control, the ideas are unlimited, and every police vehicle can behave the same way.  Intelligent control offers an extremely effective way to achieve fleet standardization, enhance officer safety, take full advantage of modern LED lighting, and simplify the upfit process.  As distractions inside and outside of the patrol vehicle multiply, we have to reduce the officer’s need to make decisions under stress.  The need to reduce lighting signal intensity and flash rates to a level appropriate for the situation is real; our litigious society has already noticed that LED lights bright enough to potentially hinder other motorists.  Wouldn’t it be better if we got ahead of the curve?



Police vehicle upfits must help officers do their jobs better, safer, and without distractions.  Upfits must also be reliable and efficient, with fleet-wide consistency and predictability.  I3 upfitting provides fleet managers with the framework to achieve those goals and modernize fleets regardless of size or make up.  The I3 upfit is affordable, with minimal impact on acquisition costs, and has real potential to lower lifecycle costs by reducing maintenance and accident downtime.  The technologies that drive the I3 upfit are readily available, effective, and the clear way forward.  The future is now.  Is your fleet ready?

Matthew Ayers is a Captain with the Sevierville Police Department and owner of Command & Control Installations in Sevierville, TN. Capt. Ayers serves as Chair for Police Fleet Expo (PFE). He may be reached at

Scott Coy is the owner of Emergency Vehicle Conversions in Kalamazoo, MI, and formerly served as a Lieutenant with the Western Michigan University Police.  He may be reached at


Sidebar 1: Resources


Sidebar 2: CANBUS and OBD-II Basics

CANBUS is a software communication system originally developed by Bosch in the mid 1980’s to allow OEM automotive manufacturers to send multiple signals down the same wire in “multiplexed” wiring systems.  While it is a powerful system that has changed the way vehicles are designed, engineered, and manufactured, it is often taken for granted in today’s vehicles.  It is easiest to think of it as a computer language used for vehicles.  Whether a fleet is using a Chevrolet, Ford, or Dodge police vehicle, the CANBUS used in the vehicle is the same.  However, the way the CANBUS language is used by each OEM is different; it is possible to say the same thing in many different ways.

ON-BOARD DIAGNOSTICS (OBD) is term referring to a vehicle’s self-diagnostic and reporting capability introduced in the early 1980’s.  OBD-II is the current standard and uses CANBUS communications to give repair technicians detailed information about the status of the various vehicle subsystems.  Modern OBD implementations use a standardized digital communications port to provide real-time data and standardized diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) for troubleshooting vehicle problems.  Because this information is readily available and uses a standard connector (ALDL), numerous aftermarket equipment manufacturers have begun to use the OBD-II interface for tracking devices, radar systems, and even wireless communications devices that link to smart phones.

Lighting and warning equipment manufacturers have begun to adopt the same technologies used by the vehicle OEM’s to enhance automation and intelligence, and improve vehicle conspicuity and 360° safety.  Newly developed OBD-II interface connectors from industries leaders Whelen and SoundOff Signal offer simple access to vehicle information and signals.  Both are using the OEM’s ALDL connector, typically located at the bottom of the dash below the steering wheel and easy to access.  Through this connector, all sorts of vehicle system and subsystem information can be accessed and used by new, sophisticated lighting and siren controllers to offer more features to the fleet. 

While this new lighting and siren technology is very promising, it should be noted that the ALDL and the signals traveling through it were designed only to standardize vehicle diagnostics.  Currently, most OEM’s do not recommend that the ALDL be used to access CANBUS signals.  Be sure to inquire with the OEM before using this type of connection for anything other than vehicle diagnostics and test any connected devices for proper operation.  If you experience any problems with your vehicle, ensure you diagnose properly using the OEM ALDL connection with all aftermarket devices disconnected.






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Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2017

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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