FierceTelecom: I imagine these simulations are a learning process. Was there anything you could have done differently?
Price: Yes, it is a learning process. We beat ourselves up a bit, but that's why we do these drills which are to make sure when the real thing happens we've done as much as we can to think of all the pitfalls. Communications is an interesting thing to deal with. When we show up to an area, we bring all of our internal communications tools with us (radios, etc). In every location we go to we have to fine tune that process to make sure that the radio frequencies we use don't interference with local businesses. Communications is always a learning experience for us.
The other thing is we introduced some new technology that we have not had a chance to use before. We decided to try a new credentialing system that the company sells as a product. They just sold it recently to the State of Virginia. One of the things we worry about is how do we identify who we say we are? The product we had our account teams come out and demonstrate for our customers and our executives is one way they would like to see the emergency response community endorse something that allows for common credentialing.
One of the challenges we had is that when they sell that product, it is set up for a static environment. In other words, it may be at a court house or a public building that has plenty of Internet bandwidth. What we put them through is a field location. While the satellite bandwidth we gave them was huge, the system was not architected to handle it in that kind of an environment. Obviously, they could not re-architect it right there on the street. What we did was then put up a short range microwave system that was connected to one of our existing buildings. This gave them more bandwidth to make it look like they were operating in one of our facilities. It was a neat way to go through a process of elimination and figure out what do we have on board that we carry with us that can meet their needs?
FierceTelecom: Along with restoring communications, Verizon has a sizeable HAZMAT team. How did Verizon get into that business how does that tie into the overall disaster recovery segment?
Price: In the early 1990s, the former MCI had a lot of shared tenant facilities. We were in a number of technical facilities in downtown office buildings. We had a landlord come to us in a building we had Houston, TX who said ‘we're going to an asbestos abatement in your facility and you're going to need to be out of there for two months.' But you can't do that with a telecom facility because it's not like moving file cabinets and office chairs; we have to leave that facility where it is and keep operating no matter what.
Another issue is we see a lot of derailments on our fiber lines because they are located along railway lines. Many times there would be a derailment and we needed to get to our equipment, but the fire department would be there saying ‘sorry, this is a HAZMAT area so you can't go in.' With my fire department background, we said our telecom techs are a lot like firefighters: they respond to issues during the day and night, have to use eye/hand coordination, and think on their feet, etc. We determined that we could train our telecom techs to be HAZMAT technicians because there were no companies out there that had people that knew telecom but knew HAZMAT. We have been operating that unit, which is called MERIT, for 17 years.