How Verizon Frontline helps get ahead of emergency incidents before they happen

Author: Shane Schick

What appears to be an everyday thunderstorm turns into a tornado that puts hundreds or even thousands of lives at risk. From just slight tremors comes an earthquake that reduces entire neighborhoods to rubble. The faint smell of smoke in the air offers the first hint of a wildfire that consumes everything in its path.

The range of possible incidents can include everything from floods, blizzards and crime.

While responding quickly to these emergencies and dealing with their aftermath is critical, the ultimate goal for public safety professionals is to prepare for the worst before it happens. Excellence in this area involves the strategic coordination of people, processes and technology on a 24/7 basis, which is exactly how Verizon Frontline approaches it.

This is part one of a two-part series exploring how Verizon Frontline works with public sector agencies across the U.S. to help first responders during natural disasters and other public safety emergencies.

Hazard threat indicators and alert criteria

According to Mary Donny, associate director of Verizon's Global Event Management Center, business continuity planning is conducted year-round to have a plan in place for any all-hazard situation that may occur. Verizon Frontline also has an Information and Sharing Analysis Center (ISAC), which monitors threats that may impact the business' employees, network, retail and office locations.

Beyond weather-related threat indicators, Donny said Verizon Frontline monitors reports of physical changes in a particular environment, such as when an undersea cable is cut, or elements that aren't visible to the naked eye, like geomagnetic or electromagnetic disturbances.

Verizon Frontline analyzes the risk and severity of threats and the potential scope of impact as conditions continue to change. Crisis management teams are then alerted based on pre-defined criteria. These can be drawn from industry-standard metrics: a TOR:CON Index of 6, for instance, means there is a 60% chance of a tornado within 50 miles of a particular location. Other criteria are based on Verizon Frontline's unique expertise, developed via the collective career experience of the team. For example, Donny previously served in emergency management roles for the American Red Cross and state and local governments.

"We have years of history," Donny said. "We've tested our criteria, and we review it every year, looking very hard to make sure that it's still applicable and appropriate to meet our needs, both domestically and globally."

The power of a public-private approach to disaster preparedness

Of course, another valuable source of expertise and insight comes from those working in the emergency support function (ESF) across the public sector. Earl Struble, senior manager of Verizon Frontline Crisis Response Team and Mission Critical Communications, said the company maintains an ongoing dialogue that helps build intelligence and capabilities to stay one step ahead of extreme conditions.

"Our trusted partnership with the first responder community is based on the cumulative knowledge sharing between the public and private space" he said. "Each time we respond together with our first responders, we learn and share that data to improve our next response."

Innovations in technology are also enhancing the situational awareness before a major incident occurs. Struble, who has worked closely with public safety agencies for nearly 30 years, pointed to the Internet of Things (IoT), where sensors placed on equipment can help provide an early warning when machines get broken or affected by adverse events. Verizon 5G edge and multi-access edge computing (MEC), meanwhile, can help accelerate the process of preparing for an emergency by enhancing the response and recovery abilities for first responders.

"Traditionally, sending someone into the field to collect data required finding an area with good cellular coverage for cloud upload and processing," he said. "In public safety, quicker access to data, means more intelligent responses from first responders, enabling faster assistance to people in need and potentially saving lives."

Donny foresees a future where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will bring an increased ability to plan the necessary resources for responding to a crisis.

"For us, it's all about answering questions like, 'How close we can pre-stage our mobile response assets to where we think the impact is going to be?' and 'How can we keep our people safe?'" she said. "We want to be as swift as possible, and that's where that data from AI becomes critical."

Matthew Tuck, Verizon's senior manager for Network Engineering and Operations, said there is a lot that can also be done to identify potential disasters based on modeling population data. These models can indicate how many people will be affected by a severe weather incident such as a flood. The data can also be combined with an ongoing analysis of potential network vulnerabilities so Verizon can proactively build greater resiliency to protect against disasters.

How 'blue sky' days can be used to prepare for 'gray skies'

Verizon Frontline does more than merely monitor conditions, of course. Donny said training is conducted throughout the year during "Blue Sky" days, when emergencies are not taking place. This puts the team in a better position when the "Gray Sky" days of a natural disaster hit.

Training exercises are done in partnership with the public sector as well. Tuck said some of those Blue Sky days are spent talking with power and backhaul providers to ensure communications priorities are well understood in advance of an emergency.

Verizon Frontline is constantly innovating and looking for ways to solve the next instance where a major event impacts communications, Tuck added. The role of satellite solutions, drones and the ability to safely deploy temporary assets to restore service are all critical considerations, he said. So is the ability to restore power to facilities through permanent or portable generators.

Fortunately, many of the personnel working for the Verizon Network and the majority of personnel working on the Verizon Frontline teams previously worked as law enforcement, firefighters or other EMS professionals or are military veterans, according to Michael Begonis, chief of staff at Verizon Frontline Crisis Response Team. That means our response staff can understand what first responders need, speak their language and provide the right solutions. Begonis, a former Chief of Police, said "It makes a world of difference to the public safety responders who are out handling a crisis or event. They want to know they can communicate with somebody and have that relationship, versus just somebody coming in handing them devices or equipment and then walking away."

Leaning into disaster planning and preparation, together

Building relationships takes time, and Struble said he has noticed a real evolution in the depth of conversations Verizon Frontline is having with the public safety community and other key stakeholders. Besides first responders, for instance, the company is in constant contact with organizations such as the Veterans Administration, the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). "We've come a long way in that we're leaning in with our public sector partners," he said. "I think the public safety community is realizing they can't do it all. We're not viewed anymore as a vendor, but we're part of an alliance to share technology and address these challenges together."

In part two of this series, we explore what happens when disaster strikes and the Verizon Frontline team must respond. Click here to learn more about Verizon Frontline, the advanced network for first responders on the front lines.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.

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