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Apr 16

Apr 2008: Post-Disaster Phone Service

April 2008 Monthly Meeting Recap – Emergency Telecommunications

Steve de Hart (Government Accounts Sales Manager), Annette Ohlgren (Government Account Manager), and Chad Carlos (Data Sales Engineer) from Verizon Wireless were our featured guests this month.

Steve talked about Verizon’s all-volunteer Significant Event Response Teams (SERTs) comprised of Verizon company employees across the nation who stand ready (24/7 year around) to respond to emergency telecommunications needs of police, fire, government agencies, the military, and National Guard, as well as humanitarian and relief organizations in the event of major emergency events and disasters.

Among the types of support SERT teams can provide are:

  • wireless phones and accessories for emergency communications,
  • broadband access cards to enable wireless internet access,
  • on-site telecommunications technical support,
  • field-level engineering support,
  • COLT (cellular on light truck) or COW (cellular on wheels) portable cell towers for Incident Command Post use, and
  • Victim Relief Center phones and phone chargers.

In order to request SERT assistance, a qualifying agency in Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego or Orange County can dial 949.286.SERT (949.286.7378) or #SERT from any Verizon Wireless cell phone and leave their name, type of request, location (longitude and latitude – if known) where help is needed, and a contact phone number.  A SERT team member will be paged and get back to you within an hour.

Steve showed us the “pink bags” containing cell phones loaned to emergency response and relief agencies during an event (or in advance in preparation for a major disaster).  He also talked about how cell phones had been used by a group of area firefighters during the wildfires to communicate their changed location to relief teams when they could not get signal on their emergency radios while in rough terrain.

Victim Relief Center support, which allows victims to contact their families and can help foster faster reunification of those who may be separated in a disaster, is offered in partnership with the Red Cross and FEMA.  Steve shared that Verizon Wireless SERT teams have thus far supported 57 Southern California agencies in responding to 16 local disasters and 11 local events – including coordinating and staffing 7 victim Relief Centers during the October 2007 wildfires.

When it came to the topic of post-disaster cellular network reliability, Steve had some very good news!   Verizon achieved a 96% call completion rate in the wake of Hurricane Frances and a 90% call completion rate in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  In addition to the ability to provide COLTS (which can run for 6-8 hours on a tank load of fuel) and COWs mentioned above, he pointed out that the Verizon network also has:

  • 8 hour battery backup on all their cell towers – which allows continued operations in the event of power failure,
  • many cell towers that also have fixed generators,
  • mobile generators which can be dispatched where needed,
  • redundant processors throughout their network, and
  • microwave “simplex” connectivity between cell towers serves as backup when T1 or DS3 connectivity fails or is unavailable.

What we, as community members can do now to help Verizon Wireless help us when disaster strikes…

Steve shared with us a map that was created in a cooperative effort between the Orange County Fire Authority and Verizon in which they had identified possible Incident Command Posts throughout Orange County. The Verizon technology team then validated each site as to the viability of being able to provide telecommunications service/support at those sites (including adequate signal, potential refueling of generators and COLTs, etc.) until they arrived at the sites that are now a part of their emergency communications “Game Plan.”  Jurupa Citizen Corps now plans to work with County OES, Cal Fire, our County Sheriffs, Verizon, and our other Partners in Preparedness to spearhead development of a similar emergency telecommunications “Game Plan” for our Jurupa Valley area — as part of an overall Riverside County plan.  As with any disaster plan, Steve recommended that we then test the plan and equipment to help ensure it will perform as expected when needed most.

Verizon offers government employee discount:  Steve, Annette and Chad concluded the meeting by sharing with us the fact that Verizon Wireless offers a 15% discount to government agencies, their employees, and their families – including those who work for the county or state government, school districts, community colleges and universities and public agencies like parks and water districts. The discount is available on equipment – whether or not the employee has Verizon Wireless cellular service.  Please see attached documents and/or contact Alisa Sandifer at 951-206-6100 for details.