NEW YORK – Verizon’s elite Major Emergency Response Incident Team, called MERIT, is celebrating 20 years of service as it continues to protect thousands of miles of the company’s communications network assets during natural disasters or hazardous materials incidents.
This week, the 30-member MERIT team, which includes eight of the original members, is assembling in the Dallas metro area to participate in Verizon’s national disaster recovery and hazmat exercises. Training at the national and regional drills enables team members to perfect their hazmat skills and complete the mandatory annual recertification. Founded in 1993, MERIT was the first such team in the industry.
“Verizon has network facilities that we protect from all kinds of hazards, but we can’t always control the external environment,” said Dick Price, chief business continuity officer for Verizon Communications. “That’s why we created MERIT. 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. And now, 20 years later, we are still going strong.”
MERIT is comprised of fulltime Verizon employees including communications technicians and specialists, building engineers, and environmental health and safety professionals. All team members have daily responsibilities in their specialties and have been trained under Occupational Safety and Health Administration and National Fire Protection Association guidelines, the same certification guidelines used by fire department hazardous materials teams in the U.S.
MERIT 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 containment zone, wearing fully encapsulated hazmat suits. The team uses multiple tools to detect chemical and radiological contamination.
Through the years, the team has responded to protect Verizon’s network assets during numerous events including Hurricanes Sandy, Irene and Katrina; the Colorado Springs Waldo Canyon wildfire; terrorist attacks in New York City and the Washington, D.C., area; floods in Iowa, Texas and Pennsylvania; and industrial fires and train derailments nationwide. The team also deployed to a postal distribution facility in Trenton, N.J., that had been contaminated by anthrax after the September 2001 attacks and successfully re-established data communications inside the contaminated building. (Photos of the Verizon MERIT hazmat team can be downloaded here.)
“During all deployments, our No. 1 goal is safety,” said Dennis DeRolf, Verizon 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.”
With nationwide network operations, Verizon’s hazmat team members are assigned to three diverse regions – the Northeast, Southeast and West. Equipment is also staged in multiple locations nationwide for immediate transport by land or by air.
“As team members, we can receive a deployment assignment anywhere in the United States at a moment’s notice, so that’s why we keep our personal hazmat gear packed and ready to travel, whether by car, train, air or one of our trucks,” DeRolf said.
During deployment, MERIT becomes a completely self-contained hazmat unit. This means the group brings its own custom-designed transport and support vehicles that are loaded with tools and equipment to use at the emergency scene so there is no strain on the local infrastructure.
When the MERIT team arrives at the site of the incident, members work within the Incident Command System structure – a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident – management protocol used by fire services and fire responders throughout the U.S. Verizon MERIT members are responsible for protecting company’s network assets while local fire, police and other government personnel manage the overall incident that created the potential hazard to the company’s network.
With the June 1 start of Atlantic hurricane season less than two months away, the Verizon hazmat team will be ready to respond and get the job done, just as the team has done for the past 20 years.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ), headquartered in New York, is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to consumer, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America’s most reliable wireless network, with more than 98 million retail connections nationwide. Verizon also provides converged communications, information and entertainment services over America’s most advanced fiber-optic network, and delivers integrated business solutions to customers in more than 150 countries, including all of the Fortune 500. A Dow 30 company with nearly $116 billion in 2012 revenues, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of 183,400. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.