A Verizon Business elite team called MERIT - Major Emergency Response Incident Team - is ready to roll, when necessary, to protect thousands of miles of the company's communications network assets during natural disasters or hazardous materials incidents.
With the Atlantic hurricane season in full swing, summer forest fires burning in several states, daily events including train derailments and industrial fires, plus the Santa Ana winds that sweep through Southern California during the fall, any part of the Verizon Business network could be in jeopardy. Which is why MERIT and the work it does are so important for the company and its enterprise and government customers.
"Verizon Business has well-maintained network facilities that we protect from all kinds of hazards, but we can't always control the external environment," said Dick Price, director of business continuance and emergency management, and founder of the MERIT team. "So we created the communication industry's first hazmat team.
"We needed technically skilled communications employees who could be trained in hazardous materials, enabling them to enter an area affected by a hazardous materials spill and complete a network repair," Price said.
Founded in 1992, MERIT consists of 35 team members including communications technicians and specialists, building engineers, and Verizon Business environmental, health and safety employees. All team members, who have fulltime daily responsibilities in their specialties, have been trained under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines, the same certification guidelines used by major fire department hazardous materials teams in the U.S.
MERIT team members, who are also trained in emergency response management, are authorized to operate at the highest operational protection level (Level A), which allows them to enter a contaminated zone, wearing fully encapsulated hazmat suits. The team uses multiple tools to detect more than 30 chemicals, Ricin and radiological contamination.
Through the years, the team has responded to protect network assets during numerous train derailments, hurricanes, floods, forest fires, industrial fires, asbestos abatement incidents, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as a postal distribution facility in Trenton, N.J., that had been contaminated by anthrax after the September 2001 attacks.
(A Verizon Business podcast highlighting the MERIT hazmat team is available here.)
"During all deployments, our No. 1 goal is safety," said Dennis DeRolf, Verizon Business MERIT coordinator. "We know we have a serious job to do to repair the network or enter a technical facility, but safety must always come before we do anything at the site of the incident."
Training at annual and regional drills during the year enables team members to perfect their hazmat skills and complete the mandatory annual recertification to remain active on the team. (Photos of the Verizon Business MERIT hazmat team can be downloaded here.)
Since the Verizon Business U.S. fiber-optic network spans the nation from coast to coast, MERIT team members are assigned to three geographic diverse teams - Northeast, Southeast and West. Equipment also is staged in multiple locations nationwide for transport by land or air.
"As team members, we know we can receive a deployment assignment anywhere in the United States at a moment's notice," DeRolf said. "We must keep our personal hazmat gear packed and be ready to travel, whether by car, train, air or one of our trucks. Also, as a self-contained hazmat team, which means we bring tools and equipment to the emergency scene for our use, we have custom-designed transport and support vehicles that are fully loaded and ready to roll immediately."
When the MERIT team arrives at the site of the incident, members work within the Incident Command Structure - a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident-management protocol used by fire services and first responders. MERIT team members are responsible for protecting Verizon Business network assets. Fire, police and other government personnel manage the overall incident that created the potential hazard to the company's network.
Verizon Business field technicians are also a critical component to the success of protecting and repairing network assets.
"There is no one who knows a local network route or local technical facility better than our employees who work in that area every day," DeRolf said. "Our local field personnel are some the most knowledgeable technicians in the industry, and we couldn't do our jobs without them."
[NOTE: Several Verizon Business MERIT team members are current or former volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services personnel. Seven members of MERIT hazmat team will be at the Fire-Rescue International Trade Show Exhibition at the Dallas Convention Center on Friday (Aug. 28) and Saturday (Aug. 29). MERIT team members will be at Verizon Booth No. 6309 where the company will showcase its new 51-foot Verizon mobile command center. (To hear a podcast describing the mobile command center, click here.) The command center can be deployed with the MERIT team or as needed throughout the United States. Verizon Business MERIT hazmat team members are available for media interviews at the show.]
About Verizon Business
Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ), is a global leader in communications and IT solutions. We combine professional expertise with the world's most connected IP network to deliver award-winning communications, IT, information security and network solutions. We securely connect today's extended enterprises of widespread and mobile customers, partners, suppliers and employees - enabling them to increase productivity and efficiency and help preserve the environment. Many of the world's largest businesses and governments - including 96 percent of the Fortune 1000 and thousands of government agencies and educational institutions - rely on our professional and managed services and network technologies to accelerate their business. Find out more at www.verizonbusiness.com.