Wireless Carriers Corral COWs, GOATs to Prepare for Natural Disasters

NEWS ANALYSIS: Natural disasters can come any time, but each year there will be tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, blizzards, wild fires and more, all of which can wreak havoc with communication systems.

Verizon Disaster Recovery

Howard County, Md.—I'm standing in a compound surrounded by enough mechanized equipment that it looked like a military operation preparing for battle. To be more exact, it was a compound occupied by what might seem like a herd of farm animals.

In front of me, parked next to a huge red tractor-trailer was a COW, next to that, a COLT. Parked behind them was a GOAT. Elsewhere, there were hastily erected tents with temporary workspaces, and then an airtight tent supplied with HAZMAT suits and a decontamination station.

Placed near the decontamination station I saw radiation detectors, chemical agent detectors and other devices. Next to that was oxygen breathing apparatus similar to, but much newer than, what I'd trained on in the Navy.

This was just a tiny portion of the arsenal that Verizon Wireless was preparing so the company could do battle against the forces of nature. Perhaps there would have been more in this carefully concealed compound, but the company was already battling massive flooding in the Midwest and south.

Tom Serio, an executive on Verizon's business continuity team, had been telling me what happens when the company prepares to respond to natural disasters. The plan is to locate a disaster response team just outside the area that will be directly impacted by whatever's coming and then rush in immediately. Serio recalled Verizon's response to Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012. "We got there before the first responders," he said.

Back then, the company's emergency response teams arrived in towns in New York and New Jersey, picking their way through the debris-filled streets as they filed in, Serio said. This convoy included a GOAT (generator on a truck), a COLT (cell on light truck) and then trailers designed to serve as command centers for local authorities.

Following along would be stand-alone charging stations and a tractor-trailer filled with cubicles and computers and even more charging stations so that storm victims could reach their families and perhaps get help to recover.

Meanwhile, other mobile generators and COWs appeared in communities providing communications to the stricken area. I asked Serio how much all of this cost to use. "Nothing," he said. "We do all of this at no charge to the community." It was, he explained, a way of giving back.

Of course, Verizon Wireless isn't alone in supporting its customers during a major disaster. Other carriers also provide mobile wireless equipment to offer access during an emergency. T-Mobile, for example, gained recognition for its willingness to allow any phone compatible with its network to make calls from the affected area, regardless of whether the owner was a customer. During Hurricane Katrina, Verizon did the same for Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) phones.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...