How Verizon Frontline responds to emergencies and major incidents

Author: Shane Schick

Whether they are confronted with a terrorist attack or a Category 5 hurricane, public safety professionals have to juggle multiple priorities at once. They work to contain emergencies so bad situations don't become worse. They address the impact of damage done to property and infrastructure. Most importantly, they strive to assist anyone at risk of injury or death. Fortunately, it's not a job they do completely on their own, and trusted partners like Verizon are here to help.

Part one of this series showed how Verizon provides considerable assistance long before disaster strikes, via ongoing business impact analysis and emergency planning activities that are conducted year-round. Part two explores what happens when trouble hits.

Always ready for action

According to Earl Struble, senior manager of Verizon Frontline Crisis Response Team and Mission Critical Communications, his team members can assist public safety agencies with a response, usually within six to 12 hours.

"We are ready to go 24/7 365, and we are equipped with solutions that either allow us to create a network or augment an existing network," said Struble. Indeed, effective public safety also involves responding to what he called "no notice" events.

If tornadoes impact multiple states or a human-made disaster occurs locally, Struble's team includes crisis response managers who are set up in strategic locations across the country.

Verizon's role can include working with first responders to identify the most critical areas where they need to get back up and running from a network perspective as soon as possible. An emergency operations center (EOC) might be damaged amid a disaster, for example, or needs to be relocated in a hurry. Verizon can help in either scenario, and many others.

Getting creative in a crisis

At the same time, Struble's team works in concert with Verizon's Network Engineering and Operations function, which develops solutions that will meet first responders' ever-evolving needs. Matthew Tuck, the team's senior manager, said this goes beyond thinking of public safety as a broad vertical market but considering highly specific requests from individual stakeholders.

First responders might be using a satellite COLT (cell on light truck) as part of their jobs right now, for instance. As the dialogue with Verizon continues, however, Tuck and his team might determine that a backhaul, or an internet circuit, might be the better technology for the job.

"It's about having that ability to leverage assets in multifunctional ways and solve problems creatively to provide a meaningful impact to people," Tuck said. "You almost have to think of the technology as modules or puzzle pieces."

In one such scenario, Verizon needed to help a public safety agency dealing with an incident on an island. The site not only lacked adequate network coverage, but the bridge had been broken and barge access was impossible. Tuck's team responded by combining satellites and tethered drones to offer first responders the service they needed.

Continuous improvement in emergency response

The experience Verizon has gained over time with technologies like satellites has transformed how the team can assist the public safety sector, Struble said.

"We're not grounded by how long you can stretch a fiber cable or to what extent you can do microwave shots from a tower. We know how to backhaul three towers down or up a mountain," he said. "Most of the stuff that we're carrying is in the back of a pickup truck or on a trailer, so we need to be small and nimble as much as possible. And those technologies have dramatically changed the way we work with first responders."

Tuck agreed. He recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in 2018, where Verizon engineers were focused on developing satellite capabilities that would enhance the response amid future events. This approach helped the response to Hurricane Laura two years later.

"It's a perfect example of how that planning resulted in a better response for everybody: for the customer and for public safety," he said, adding that Verizon has not only improved the satellite technology itself but was able to avoid congestion in an emergency. "One of the big Verizon differentiators is the fact that we do have some spectrum that's just ours. It's not shared. That adds tremendous value when it comes to responding to events of large scale where there is competition for resources."

Keeping the PACE

While every event is unique in some regards, Struble said the core need of public safety professionals is the same—they depend on clear communication at all times, whether it's to gain situational awareness or amid search and rescue operations. These communication requirements are broken down as primary, alternative, contingency and emergency (PACE), and Verizon Frontline has technology for all of them.

For Mary Donny, associate director of Verizon's Global Event Management Center, the back-and-forth between Verizon and public safety agencies has only grown more frequent over time.

"It used to be that you could give an update twice a day. Now they want to know constantly of any changes," she said. "So there's more pressure, but in a good way. Clearer communication and more transparency have definitely occurred as we've deepened our relationship with these customers."

This isn't just a two-way dialogue, however. Tuck pointed to the varied stakeholders that need to collaborate amid an emergency.

"There's a whole ballet of communication taking place between us, customers and other utility partners. We're trying to support the recovery efforts posed by a major incident," he said, adding this communication translates directly into critical actions. "If we can tell them 'green'—meaning that they are good to move into a particular area—that gives them the ability to respond that much more effectively in the field."

Handling the aftermath

Even once the most dangerous aspects of an emergency have come to an end, the work isn't done. Public Safety agencies may have lost their buildings. Organizations like law enforcement or the National Guard may need to set up a temporary command post to support community response activities.

Donny said Verizon can respond by providing tactical command units that function as an EOC. That means those agencies can remain focused on community response operations. Verizon brings in Wireless Emergency Communications Centers so those affected can get in touch with loved ones and ensure their phones are charged.

Verizon may also send in their hazmat team that can repair an impacted network during a train derailment, asbestos abatement, or other hazardous environmental condition that restricts access to facilities. Having our own lodging on wheels allows us to immediately get to work and not have to find hotels far away from impacted area. "Stores on wheels" can provide retail services (and connectivity) for customers affected by an incident.

Verizon will also develop data, text and calling relief offers for affected counties. In some scenarios, the President may decide to visit a site, and Verizon helps ensure local authorities and security personnel are equipped with the necessary communications capabilities.

Technological innovation drives public safety improvements

The good news is that ongoing technology investments are making those capabilities stronger. Tuck cited the use of 5G-powered sensors connected to the Internet of Things (IoT), which could not only track where first responders are during a crisis but also baseline health metrics like their heart rate. Infrared technologies, meanwhile, are now viable not only in buildings but on drones that can navigate to difficult areas.

Struble said, overall, technologies like 5G represent an enormous leap forward in the work public safety agencies, in partnership with Verizon, are doing when every second counts.

"Having faster speeds, more capacity, lower latency is going to be absolutely groundbreaking," he said.

At Verizon Frontline, your mission is our purpose. Learn more about 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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