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

Verizon truck
Verizon truck (Image credit: Android Central)

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 is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

41 Comments
  • I have to say I have to commend Verizon during Hurricane Sandy and other disasters lately. They have done excellent work providing cellular use for those affected by such disasters. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I lived in one of the affected areas of Hurricane Sandy and people who had Verizon had a hard time just making and receiving phone calls. While I had no trouble at all making or receiving calls and even had data service. AT&T also gave me a free month of cell service. Posted Via The AT&T Note 4
  • Agreed. Nice article Russell Posted via the Android Central App
  • As long as their disaster response team doesn't show up as late as their update teams, lol, Just saying.
  • Last few storms, VZ was the only service at 100% in town FOR DAYS!... It was why I switched in the first place!
  • They've also been very good about updating recently. Your joke is old and tired, get new material. Posted via the Android Central App
  • All the Droid Turbo owners would like to have a word with you Posted via Oneplus One.. For now.
  • I've seen these in action a couple times, once in South Florida after Hurricane Wilma hit the area and the other around Birmingham, AL after a major tornado outbreak. It's impressive how quickly they had cell services back up and working using all this emergency equipment where other carriers did not. This is a big reason many companies and municipalities use Verizon. They can count on a certain level of service even in a disaster.
  • I may despise Verizon in the sense of being a wireless carrier when it comes to some things... But I truly am happy they are a company for multiple reasons including their emergency response teams. I commend and honor those that work in this department of verizon and their related teams. Not only this but all the money they put toward non-profits that work to save the world, or animals, or help other human beings.. They are indeed a great company.... except when it comes to being a cell carrier, jk.
  • This is what less competition brings.. Bigger, badass, companies.
    Remember that next time you spit out the generic "more competition is better for the consumer" All we need is 3 cellular providers. That's enough competition to support proper speeds, pricing, and service. Nexus 5 (AT&T)
  • Still need MVNO's or many of us couldn't even afford a data plan or even a cell phone. There are 4 big players now and I don't see Verizon hurting any that they can't do these things. They are making profits anyway but there has been a trend lately to more consumer friendly changes from all the companies. Before tmobile started it's uncarrier moves, I would say the trend was the opposite way. That's just a layman's opinion based on what I read and see.
  • The mvno aren't the issue. They're good and serve their purpose. The main carriers need to have lower byo plan pricing Nexus 5 (AT&T)
  • How did you come to that conclusion? The fact that Verizon does this when we have 4 major providers disproves your point right there.
  • I remember when we had that huge blackout in the Northeast a few years ago and my VZW cell phone had service back up a half day ahead of other carriers. Still didn't stop me from switching to TMobile recently though. Lol
  • See I was the opposite lol I switched to VZW because it was the only one working, in some parts of NJ VZ was the only game in town for days lol
  • Saw a little of this after an F4 tornado went through the middle of our small town. I know the charging station trucks were in town. Tornado knocked out one of their cell towers making communication difficult in the aftermath but I think they put a mobile tower. A shout out to all who respond to disasters: government agencies, companies, non-profits and individuals. You never understand the meaning of this to those going through it until you've been there.
  • I work with back up generators- I maintain utility company contracts and the like for back up power. Here in NE, vzw is so far ahead of the curve with back up generation, that I doubt a vzw customer would not have cell service outside of towers falling to the ground as long as their phone was charged up. Nice write up Russell.
  • Very impressive. We need to hear more stories about how these companies help the common folk. This is so much better than watching companies bicker back and forth about who has the bigger 'phone' Posted via Android Central App
  • How's the coverage? Pun intended Posted via the Android Central App
  • I know people bash Verizon, including me, but during every hurricane, tropical storm, etc. I've been the only one able to use a phone when my friends had no service at all. So as much as I bash them for raping me each month, I can't complain at all about the service they provide. Posted via the Android Central App
  • At least they use the lube they forgot to use on my parents to keep this well oiled service going. I'll still never pay that much for a phone bill when things like StraightTalk are around. Sloths fight leopards. You can't open a bag of chips. Clearly humans are the weaker species.
  • I have seen these used many times in Louisiana during storms. Most of the time I have uninterrupted cell coverage until the storm laid the tower down on the ground. Then they had plenty of trucks and people working to get it back up. Posted via the Android Central App
  • During the past few Major storms I got stuck in Verizon was the ONLY wireless service 100% working. It was why I switched to VZ as well. Whenever I lose power I know I'm still connected. Not to mention, I can still watch Netflix & Hulu from my laptop without power. It has def made storms that knock out power more tolerable lol..
  • But they put logos on every truck etc....
  • Why does that matter? Is it wrong for company to want people to know they are ones helping those in need? Law enforcement has their logos on their vehicles and the military, just like EMS and fire departments. Hell even majority of the well known super heroes (although fictional) have an emblem that people can associate with them. Posted via the Android Central App
  • twas a joke about the usual comments on verizon articles about their phones. chill out
  • Yes was meant as a joke, just get tired Oh hearing it all the time.
  • i see what you did there and luld a bit
  • "The company is able to rapidly deploy . . . surveillance equipment . . ." Um, that kind of scares me Posted via Android Central App
  • Governments surveil. Ours has many billions of dollars worth of equipment to do so. They don't need Verizon. Personally, kitten, I think anyone that's fine with being surveiled by a private company is a bit naive. My tinfoil hat IS on a little tight today tho :-p Posted via Android Central App
  • I wouldn't consider security cameras to be surveillance equipment. I see watching people on your property as security, and watching people off your property as surveillance. But the article doesn't say. You may well be right. I hope so. Privatized spying is scary, I know firsthand Posted via Android Central App
  • Great article. I have friends and family that work in critical infrastructure (power, water and telecom) and when disaster strikes they are ready. Not to mention they get a lot of training and are well compensated. You never know, you may not come home.
  • All this, and they still have to gimp phones, disallow BYOP, etc... Yes, I'm a customer. Still... Posted from the redheaded stepchild of the Nexii
  • Carriers are dictated by laws that require them to have this kind of stuff in place. Otherwise they get fined or cannot operate. The same goes for all the fiber optic carriers that form the backbone of the Intrernet as well. I used to work for a carrier that supplied connections for not only the Internet, but also cellular carriers and we fell under the same mandates to have emergency response teams and equipment. We had similar vehicles that contained entire point-of-presence (POP) centers in the back of the rig that could be spliced into any fiber trunk to replace a destroyed POP site. Sometimes we complain about the cost of our connectivity, but some of that goes into just these situations behind the scenes. The hardest working folks after a storm or disaster are emergency responders, electrical linemen and these guys.
  • That's true. I was referring to having the big stuff that gets the network back up and running like the COWs and COLTs. Yes, it was awesome that Verizon also helped out the local folks with stuff too.
  • That's what this article is about, how Verizon goes above and beyond.
  • I can tell you first hand that Verizon was the only phone service working in the days after hurricane Katrina. I spent several days in a hospital in New Orleans (my son had just had heart surgery a few days before the storm), and people were borrowing phones from people who had Verizon to contact their loved ones. I later spoke with a friend who works for Verizon, and he told me how they got their towers on back up power just after the storm ended. When I called AT&T a few weeks later to ask about a discount for the two weeks I was without service, they gave me nothing. I hung up the phone, went straight to a Verizon store and never looked back. Posted via Android Central App
  • I can recall that when Katrina striked on Puerto Rico the only Wirelless network that was up and running was the AT&T on the west of the island. And they where kind enoughf to allow other wirreless companies to use their towers.
  • Screw Verizon Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have a lot of respect for verizon for being here for the first responders in Oklahoma a few ago at a large wild fire. And again they were at the 2013 moore tornado (att was also there). People complain about the verizon logo on the phone, and other things, but during a disaster seeing big red pull up is always a good thing. Posted via the Android Central App
  • So that's why our phone bill is $248/mo for 3 feature phones and 2 smartphones with unlimited data? Oh ok. Well now I feel better about giving them all my money!