From the Army Signal Corps to Wireless: Staying Connected During a Crisis

Today marks the 108th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, an event that remains one of the most significant natural disasters in U.S. history.

A century ago, the U.S. Army Signal Corps was responsible for reestablishing the severed telephone and telegraph lines damaged by the quake and associated fires. Lines began to go back up mere hours after the disaster; a line linking the Army headquarters to the Secretary of War was up within 24 hours. As the Corps team on-site grew, so did the number of telephone lines. More than 40 telegraph offices and 79 phone offices went up in the immediate aftermath, making communications between relief districts, transportation hubs, the mayor’s office and federal agencies possible. For nearly a month, San Francisco relied on this military “network.”

It’s amazing to think of how prepared they were back then.

Fast-forward to 2014. With a cellphone in nearly every hand, people are equipped with a powerful tool that is essential for emergency preparedness. These devices not only keep people connected to each other, but to breaking news and weather. They provide navigation when someone is lost and even act as flashlights when the power is out. Along with electricity, what makes these devices work in critical times is a reliable wireless network.

And what is the key to making these networks tick? The switch. A mobile switching center, or switch, is the heart of a network. It routes voice and data traffic traveling over a wireless network in a specific geographic area.

Verizon Wireless’ switch in Fairfield, Calif. – a 20,000 square-foot LEED Gold Standard-certified facility – is one of its 148 switching facilities nationwide. The Fairfield switch routes calls and data for thousands of Northern California customers, from Mendocino to Palo Alto. Verizon Wireless builds its network to deliver an unparalleled customer experience under normal circumstances and to be a reliable source of communication during emergencies. Battery power backs up all the facilities, and generators stand ready at all switching facilities and many cell site locations to help keep the network running during power outages.

“Our network is built to withstand the unexpected, built to be resilient. We do regular maintenance on our equipment,” said David Cunningham, operations manager at Verizon Wireless’ Fairfield switch. “We regularly test our emergency response plan to ensure our network has the best chance of survival in any situation.”

Verizon Wireless also has a fleet of mobile network equipment that includes COWs (cells on wheels), COLTs (cells on light truck), RATs (repeaters and trailer) and GOATs (generators on a trailer). This equipment can be quickly deployed to boost network signals, particularly in remote areas, and provide back-up power to cell sites and switching centers in the case of commercial power outage.

Verizon Wireless has proven that its network can recover quickly in disaster and crisis situations such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and wildfires; preparedness is central to the company’s culture.

Learn more about how to stay connected in an emergency.