Far too many natural and manmade disasters have illustrated the problems that arise when countless people are attempting to contact first responders, family, and friends at the exact same time. In the twenty-first century, these issues were evident on September 11, 2001, as well as after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. First responders often struggle with spotty connections and disrupted communication due to downed networks and inaccessible locations while fighting wildfires and in the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquakes. Creating effective disaster response starts with establishing reliable communication. Over recent years, FEMA has been investing in solutions that address these challenges and will enable communication infrastructure to be accessible and functional when it is needed most.
To achieve this goal, FEMA partnered with Verizon to take advantage of its state-of-the-art communications technology and its history of supporting public safety and first responders during crises. Using the most advanced mobile network technology and putting three decades’ worth of knowledge of public safety needs into practice, Verizon Frontline, is available at all times to assist public safety officials in the wake of natural disasters, including August 2021’s Tropical Storm Fred that decimated western North Carolina, and to support them during major events where safety concerns are heightened, like the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay law enforcement race in April 2022.
Members of the Verizon Response Team, like Response Team Manager, Tetoya Gibson, who is ex-military and has extensive Emergency Management experience and education, arrive on scene to provide a variety of tablets, cell phones, and other communication devices to public safety officials and ensure that everything runs properly. Tetoya and her team work collaboratively with another Verizon team led by Nieama Booker to seamlessly support FEMA’s mission “to support the citizens and first responders to promote that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.” Both teams respond 24/7/365 to assist with on-site disaster response and training in partnership with FEMA.; Most recently, Tetoya and her team were deployed to Kentucky following severe tornadoes in December 2021.
With this robust response capacity in place, Verizon Response Team members use each opportunity to learn and grow to create new services and solutions to support public safety measures. The latest addition of Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response, or THOR, is the first-of-its-kind mobile command center prototype. It’s been dubbed a ‘Swiss Army knife on wheels’ because of its immense capabilities. With seating for up to nine people, THOR brings 150 hours of operation capability and a team to run it all to any FEMA disaster zone. On board the mobile command vehicle is a 5G lab with a private network. THOR also has commercial satellite and drone capabilities, as well as an ability to be operated remotely through a tablet. Each feature was designed specifically to address the gaps in communication by providing a temporary, private 5G Ultra Wideband network to remote locations. Not only is THOR intended to assist fire, law enforcement, and EMS first responders, but it was designed to be an asset for the Department of Defense as well.
The ability to communicate quickly and easily is the key to effective disaster response regardless of whether it’s in response to a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a plane crash in California. In these challenging situations, being able to access a reliable network quickly can be the essential difference to mission success for public safety officials. These advancements have become even more necessary with an increase in frequency and severity of natural disasters. Look at flooding problems, tornados, and hurricanes that have plagued New Jersey and the surrounding area of late. Also, consider the longer hurricane season – storms starting as early as May – and wildfires that used to be confined to a season but now occur year-round. By recognizing a role they could play in disaster relief and collaborating with FEMA, Verizon is making effective disaster response smoother and more impactful. Though many events are unavoidable, the response makes all the difference in lives saved and how fast the affected communities can recover.