For Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 6-12), we sat down with Rodney Cooper, manager of Sprint’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) to find out how the ERT is gearing up for the 2018 Hurricane Season and to hear what they learned from last year’s trio of storms (Harvey, Irma and Maria) that made landfall.
Sprint’s ERT is responsible for supporting First Response and Government operations during natural disasters and emergency events. This specialized team of communications professionals brings multiagency operations and military experience to their work which has included over 6,200 deployments since 2002. Cooper has serving the Public Safety and Government operations since 2001 and has worked on the ground during Hurricanes Maria, Irma, Matthew, Sandy, and Irene to name a few.
Sprint: Given the critical nature of the Sprint Emergency Response Team’s work, how do you prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster?
Rodney Cooper: Preparation is absolutely key to any successful response to and recovery from a disaster and it never really ends. We focus our preparation from three perspectives:
- Internal: We evaluate systems, processes, procedures, assets and resources within our own business unit to ensure operationally we’re always ready and resilient. This includes inspecting physical assets, updating technology, and refreshing equipment as needed.
- External: We work with first responders and other government customers to help educate them on the telecommunications industry and to ensure their own operational plans are reviewed and optimized.
- Collaboration: Training exercises and drills are one of the most important things we do in preparing for any event. Annually, we conduct 35 to 40 exercises to simulate real world events and allow us to practice right alongside our first responder and government customers during their own operations. During these drills we may deploy our SatCOLTs (specialized mobile cell sites that can operate anywhere at any time), Portable Satellite Systems, stand-up WIFI networks, and handsets and mobile broadband hotspots. We provide these services at no cost to our ERT customers as part of our corporate responsibility.
Sprint: Once a hurricane hits what does Sprint do to help keep its customers connected?
Cooper: By the time a hurricane makes landfall, Sprint will have already spent up to two weeks planning for it. Our teams will have convened, sometimes multiple times per day, to ensure all our action plans, resources and assets are ready.
ERT is among the first teams at Sprint to usually arrive first on the scene of any major disaster and any one of our more than 1,100 reservists. ERT is equipped with SatCOLTs that can even be flown on military aircraft for OCONUS operations. We maintain large inventory of devices such as cell phones, Push-to-Talk handsets, air cards, hotspots, WIFI access points, small cell equipment, Sprint Magic Boxes, and other specialized gear.
While ERT is deploying to support first responder and government customers, Sprint’s Network Disaster Recovery team is also deploying highly trained engineers along with COWs (cells on wheels) and COLTs (portable cell sites), portable generators, microwave systems, and other equipment to help ensure the network remains operable or is restored as quickly as possible.
While these teams are active in the field, Sprint’s retail, commercial, and government sales teams are communicating with customers on the status of the event, and to the extent possible prioritizing network restoration. These teams also are often in the local community providing donated phones, setting up hotspots for internet access, and setting up charging centers so people can charge their phones if there are widespread commercial power outages.
Sprint: What did we learn from the 2017 hurricanes?
Cooper: Harvey, Irma, and Maria highlighted, like never before, the importance of a resilient communications strategy, especially as it relates to supply chain and logistics, life safety operations, and community health.
The impact of Maria really brings to the forefront most of the discussions that continue today, especially as it relates to supply chain and logistics. In Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, there were very limited resources and what was there was mostly destroyed or unavailable. Existing infrastructure was already in poor condition, and nearly all the first responders were also victims themselves.
Separated by miles of ocean, moving needed equipment in required either air transport or barge, and the ports were largely damaged and inoperable due to loss of power and communications.
We know that this is why almost every plan and exercise we do with first responders and government agencies, must stress the importance of communications systems, include practice procedures for rapid restoration of communications systems, and working with resources like Sprint’s ERT.
Sprint: How does Sprint’s ERT work with local governments before, during and after an event?
Cooper: Our unique ability to be first on the ground after a major disaster requires coordination with our government. During major events, we are plugged into the same systems that government agencies use for the coordination of first response operations, and the sharing of critical and timely information.
We have dedicated staff who are responsible for working with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure we are connected and communicating effectively through these systems and we insert Sprint personnel inside government operated Emergency Operations Centers.
On June 13 at our campus in Overland Park, Kansas, Sprint’s ERT will host the “Sprint Getting Business Back to Business” event. This public-private event, the result of our relationships with FEMA and several large corporations, will promote collaboration between small to medium-sized businesses, government and critical corporate infrastructure in support of economic recovery following all-hazards events.