Verizon's disaster readiness is an impressive combination of hardware and manpower

Our data and communications networks, both physical and wireless, are parts of critical infrastructure with lasting consequences when we can't access them, especially during a disaster situation. When they aren't busy showing you speckled red maps and boasting superior coverage in the US, Verizon Wireless is pouring money into backup plans and emergency preparedness scenarios that involve every aspect of the company. Verizon has a team dedicated to planning for the worst, and the team has proven themselves many times in the past as more than just a team that works to restore wireless and landline communications.

Over time this team has developed the resources to offer aid to first responders, and in some situations has even been fully deployed before those emergency teams have been able to assemble aid stations for civilians. Recently we were able to take a look at some of the planning and hardware that goes in to making this possible, as well as talk with the folks who go into these disasters ready to lend a hand.

Verizon COLT

"As far as I'm concerned, when a disaster strikes somewhere every Verizon employee is available to me to help there." Tom Serio, a Manager in Verizon's Crisis Response team, said as he started his presentation this week to a room full of government agencies from Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He meant it, too. When Hurricane Sandy struck New York and New Jersey in 2012, Verizon Wireless stores opened back up well before the surrounding areas had recovered, and those locations were immediately turned into shelter-like safe zones for people to charge their devices and take advantage of whatever resources the location was able to pull together, even if that was just air conditioning and bottled water. At the same time, Verizon's teams are working with first responders — fire, police and other emergency services — by handing out phones, tablets, and MiFi units to those who need them. This is a procedure Verizon and other operators have repeated all over the U.S., and occasionally includes flying in volunteers from other areas to help restore an area to a functional state.

It's called "Big Red" for several obvious reasons.

There isn't always an unaffected Verizon store conveniently located in the middle of all the chaos, so the company has put together a fleet of vehicles to deal with that. If you're familiar with extended deployment plans for mobile carriers, you're probably familiar with Cell on Wheels and Cell on Light Truck vehicles — affectionately shortened to COWs and COLTs by the folks who make and use them — but Verizon's fleet goes well above and beyond portable generators and mobile cell towers. In a crisis situation, the company is able to rapidly deploy massive trailers and temporary structures filled with workstations, mobile communications systems, and even lighting and surveillance equipment to help establish a functional basecamp for first responders.

The first vehicle we were shown earned the title "Big Red" for several obvious reasons. It's a massive 44-foot trailer on the back of a tractor-trailer, with a generator the size of a small car powering 50 workstations inside. A massive dish sits on top to connect the trailer to Verizon's network if it is down in the area, allowing it to serve as a functional base of operations even when everything in the surrounding area has been destroyed.

Verizon demonstrated how these workstations have been used for everything from FEMA paperwork stations and temporary workstations for police officers to temporary offices for displaced workers that need to check in and charge their hardware. The workstations themselves are simple but effective, offering power outlets and USB ports with an HP Chromebook and a telephone for anyone who needs them.

Because it's not always easy — or possible — to get this massive vehicle into a disaster area, Verizon's crisis trailers help fill in the gaps. While these serve a similar purpose, their design is a lot more modular. The trailers are deployed with a rigid tent attached to the side, which is designed to either stand alone as a single structure or have many other tents added on depending on what the need is at the time.

The trailer portion of the structure has similar workstations for folks to walk in and use, but the external floodlights, HD cameras, and massive light balloon designed to fill the surrounding area with light offers some additional functionality as a base of operations for first responders. These tents are also temperature controlled with a portable heating and air conditioning unit, so Verizon can quickly deploy a safe and comfortable office space for emergency crews or displaced civilians to work and rest out of.

As impressive as the community outreach and physical presence in an emergency is to see, the people Verizon puts on the ground to deal with damage to their equipment are well worth mentioning as well. For example, Verizon's Major Emergency Response Incident Team — MERIT for short — is comprised of Hazmat professionals who are capable of rapidly deploying to an area and coordinating with existing emergency teams to mitigate damage and restore fiber connections as quickly as possible. Many of the folks on the MERIT team are Firefighters by day, and when Verizon calls them in they deploy those same skills to ensuring the safety of those involved in a crisis situation.

This represents a small portion of what Verizon has ready to deploy in the event of a disaster. It's an impressive offering to say the least, and the company is constantly working on new ways to improve the response time and availability of these teams. It's the kind of thing you never want to need, but at the same time it is incredible to see what happens when a company as big as Verizon steps in and lends a helping hand.

Russell Holly

Russell is a tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!

  • That must have been an expensive plug.
  • where did you think all their customers' money is going?
  • In their exec pockets. Duh
  • That's a very naive outlook. There is alot of things my money I spend on Verizon pays for.
    1) some of the best coverage and speeds available (I have access to XLTE where I live and it is fiber speeds in the air... simply amazing)
    2) reliable signal in most areas I have to travel; all but the remotest areas.
    3) the ability for companies like Sprint, MetroPCS, Cricket, TMobile, etc. to even continue to exist. People think they are being brilliant by going to a carrier that is cheaper and fail to realize that the only reason they get such cheap rates is because those companies don't have to maintain half of the lines they deliver their "service" on. Without Verizon's and AT&T's high prices to expand into areas where the cost is higher than the return (like highways and sparsely populated areas), there would be no cheap access for other people.
    4) programs like this article showing how Verizon can field better initial disaster response than groups dedicated to it can and are dedicated to making sure communications are available in a crisis.
    I am proud to be a Verizon subscriber.
  • Did ya hear they were just contracted by darpa for building a cell based uav tracking system
  • So it being an ad makes it any less true? It being jumped on by a for profit company to make money makes it any less true? It's not a review of a product that has its integrity called into question because it needs to be good or the person running it doesn't get paid. It's mere facts, whether it's an ad or an article that WM had decided to write itself.
  • Lol
  • And since you're claiming it's an ad, I am sure you are more then willing to back up the proof you clearly seem to have that Verizon paid Russell Holly to write this article.
  • Sad you can't see the truth in the article.  I lived near the coast in Galveston and I worked with a lot of first responders to help restore police operations, CAD, 911, vehicle connectivity, etc, after Ike.  Verizon was at every first responder agency in the county within hours of the Ike passing, when nothing had power and even the first responders were still trying to get up and running.  And they were handing out equipment, seeing up mobile cell towers, and basically doing everything listed in the article.  I switched to Verizon shortly after.  This article points out something that Verizon does that the other carriers don't.
  • AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile were nowhere to be found.  AT&T didn't function properly for weeks after Ike came through.  Sprint's service was in shambles, which happened to be what all the agencies were using.  And were they there setting up services?  Nope.  Verizon had mobile charging trucks, would let people use cell phones to contact people, handing out food and water.
  • You're funny.  So it's not possible to agree with one statement but not another?  The other carriers have some response but not the level that is outlined in the article that Verizon deploys.  And what are you talking about, defending morality?  If a company contributes to the greater good because it serves as a mechanism for advertising, does it still not serve the greater good?  It's not like they're packing these trailers full of people and filling it with murder gas.  They're doing what it takes to get more customers AND help the community at the same time.  Oooohhh, so evil.
  • Is it fun being paranoid and cynical?
  • Piss off man, trolling every little thing on this website...
    This guy has got nothing good to say ever...moderators, would request you to consider taking action against his account. He has been nothing but nuisance and a source to needless and highly negative comments on anything he discusses.
  • Blah blah blah... get a life instead of essay writing on a comment section...critical discussion my criticise, you never really discuss cause you dont accept what anyone else has to say.
    If reporting you doesn't work, it ought to cause you just love to be the hater around here. No one here appreciates a constant critic.
  • Verizon is crazy, 10 gigs shareable data... bitch please
  • Lol
  • Heh heh thats funny... :P
  • Kick it to 20gb with tethering (for under $30 a month)and I might actually drop my unlimited data for it... 
  • Lol using HP Chromebooks... Shows how much they really love Microsoft
  • +1520
  • +925
  • This is the most well written advertisement I have ever read, bravo.
  • You don't say...
  • Well they have to spend the pile of loot they make bilking you for things like $3 visual voicemail somewhere...
  • Oh god, how terrible they spend money on helping people.  Let's make that a negative.
  • COLTs and COWs.
  • Mothers and fuckers, more like...
  • Crisis response is no joke & any help is welcomed ... Much respect to them
  • +928
  • Agreed.
  • +920. Impressive. Thanks to the people that respond in a crisis.
  • Hot stuff !
  • Put some digital camo on them vehicles and ya got the NSA/CIA in action...
  • I'm not a big fan of Verizon as a service provider but I got to give credit where credit is due. Great work!
  • Now, if they would just spend a fraction of time and energy promoting the Window's Phone system.
  • Russ, thanks for posting up that article! Even though I'm not a VZ fan, I did spend the better part of a decade in AT&Ts CMDR force, and its nice to see that exposure presented. A lot (and I mean A LOT!) goes on so deeply behind the scenes that it would boggle the mind. Folks think that carriers are ONLY in it for the profit -and I see why that view exists - but there are a large portion of the cogs in the machine that take great pride in making sure the user can communicate quickly and effectively as possible when it really matters. And post trauma is that time.
    Again, thank you!
  • Big anti-Big Red guy here. But giving VZW crap for this is like giving Anheuser-Busch crap for sending aid water to Texas/Oklahoma because you prefer Coors beers.
  • Mark this crap as an advertisement, so I don't have to bother reading this tripe. To not mark this as an advertisement just destroys any journalistic integrity that you may have had. 
  • Therin lies your problem...WC never had any journalistic integrity, nor are they journalists...just a tech site, nothing more...don't deceive yourself...these fuckers aren't gonna win a Peabody Award...
  • Not sure why we have this article, though. Advertisement?
  • Yea for the first time I'm inclined to agree. Especially since it's not windows related it sticks out like a sore thumb
  • If you're coordinating and implementing multi million dollar Disaster Recovery plans as I do for state government programs, Verizon is only but one player. SunGard and Rentsys are huge players in the MRC space.
  • Yes, but Verizon keeps the communication going so the players can communicate.
  • Haha ok
  • Chromebooks? That's a disaster in waiting.
  • Nice
  • Here's some newer tech.
  • Why is there a Verizon ad masquerading as a news article?! WTF Windows Central?!
  • Why are they covering truck's tires? What is the purpose?
  • Some sort of lockout in -"Don't drive off with the Generator Truck while the Lead Cables are connected to the cell tower." or "What's that flapping Noise in the right well?"
  • Now if only they could have reception indoors and run on a real network that works outside of the boarders of the US.
  • As someone who supported clients directly affected by hurricane sandy I can definitely say this is just fluff. Most of my Verizon clients (small, medium, medium-large) were out a minimum of a week. To be fair Verizon was better than Time Warner Cable.
  • Was that Verizon Wireless service or their Landline, DSL, Fios Services? Just asking because you mentioned Time Warner.
  • It takes time to put all those services back online for every one. I'm sure one thing they helped provide was emergency communication connectivity.
  • For all of you idiots who claim this is just an advertisment, and yes, you all indeed are idiots, it may come across this way, but the site is owned by MOBILE Nations.  There is absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever for a site dedicated to mobile news to actually talk about something positive that a cell carrier is doing. As someone who has unforunately been in a position first hand to see Verizon's disaster team at work I can say that it is indeed impressive.  Not all news has to be bad news or disparaging someone or something.
  • Alright then smartass, how is this NEWS, and why was no other carrier mentioned with their relief efforts?
  • It's just as much news as articles detailing how add widgets to a home screen is.  It informs people about what certain services offer. As to why no other carrier was mentioned, I don't know for certain.  I can say however after having gone through a situation where tornados came through my area and knocked out power for the entire northern part of the state that Verizon was the only one who opened their stores and allowed people to come in and charge their phones from generators they brought in.  Even people who weren't Verizon customers.  They even went to the radio and TV stations and for those who needed it, hooked up equipment to allow them internet access over their network, and didn't charge a cent for it.  AT&T, Sprint nor T-Mobile offered anything like that during those 5 days power was out. So one explanation as to why no other carrier was mention is because perhaps no other carrier goes to the extent Verizon does.  I know in my own personal experience none of the others came close to stepping up like Verizon did.
  • We aren't idiots for thinking this is an ad. I'm pretty sure it is. That doesn't mean all of us don't appreciate the content though. It being an ad doesn't mean I can't appreciate what it says. I also think it's appropriate to have this here. No arguments with that. But I just can't see how money or something didn't change hands for this story. It's long and features only Verizon and only good things said :). But I'm not an idiot for thinking this may be an ad in the age of advertisements...
  • During Hurricane Sandy, Verizon Customers Phones generally continued to work. The other carriers struggled to get coverage for their customers during the disaster. Verizon's Disaster Readiness is a big plus for them. They have more generators installed at their cell sites than any other carrier. All that said, disasters do not happen everyday and AT&T has much stronger signal, clearer audio and more reasonable plans in my area. So, I do not reccomend choosing a carrier based solely on disaster readiness. Hey AT&T, how about a disaster response plan to go along with your great coverage?
  • I've seen AT&T's major disaster recovery team test their procedures. It's nothing short of impressive. 11-15 semis pull up, start interconnecting, and start doing their jobs. With the equipment in the trucks they can essentially pull up to the rubble of a central switching office, tie into the connections, download the configurations from the home office, and get everything up and running.
  • I work for a Telecommunications company in Australia. I work in the NOC, I can pretty bet that 80-90% we get there before emergency service do, its a pretty big effort. I'm quite proud of the boys out in the field on how fast they get there to restore service so people and the families can contact there love ones. I'm impress that Verizon setup up these MERIT stations and charging stations in there stores. I don't think any carrier in Australia would do that. Those truck are so impressive i think it money well spent. I know when we go out we restore our service it means power is supplied for the local area until mains power can be restored. There alot of effort that goes into this and allot of money. Good work Verizon
  • It's impressive, no question, but how 's all of that the duty of a private company? I'm ok with them providing emergency network capacity but all this other stuff is in the responsability of the goverment. Here in Germany emergency equipment is privided eighter by the fire departments, the military or a special technical emergency service. Almost all of this are public services except for some special company fire departments, for example from the chemical industrie, but that's rare.
  • All the other stuff should be the governments responsibility? Why should it be the governments responsibility to keep a companys services running? That's like saying if Blizzards data center gets knocked out the government should come in so people can play WoW.
  • You misunderstood me. Keeping their services running is their duty but not providing emergency equipment like lighting.
  • Because they want to help people?
  • Verizon,what about setting up a special team for changing the worst logo ever? Sorry bad joke, this verizon ad is interesting, and no problem is an ad: WC is a profit company and not a charitable one. So stop complaining...
  • They are using chromebooks without network connection to do the logo re-design.. And yes blog writers are no journalists so ethics standards don't apply.
  • Great article, though I did not see any mention of the cave that they store the majority of this equipment in.   And people seriously think this is an ad? No wonder more & more people choose to avoid the comments sections of websites.
  • Great article about DR (Disaster Recovery). For you folks crying "AD". hate to break it to you but those deals that come up. Those are "ADs" that you hate. It really sucks that you are going to cry ad over this article when it talks in-depth on how one carrier restores needed services in an emergency event. The only thing I can think is you are in high school or lower and do not appreciate how much it costs to have an infrastructure to be able to roll out, for possibly a one time usage, when nature screws up you chatroulette session. As someone who has to plan for situations like these and the type of cost it requires to basically have a second site running during emergency, this is truly impressive.