Sprint's Emergency Response Team

Sprint Nextel’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) is an experienced, cross-functional group that provides wireless telecommunications equipment, infrastructure and personnel support to federal, state and local public safety, law enforcement and military agencies during presidential-declared disasters and emergencies, field training exercises, agency-specific events and national special security events. The Sprint ERT is a unique team that specializes in deploying for large incidents and operations in remote environments.

The ERT utilizes custom developed equipment and response vehicles—Satellite Cell on Light Trucks (SatCOLTs) to provide a secure, stable wireless communications platform that augments the capabilities of the Sprint Nextel national network and has capability to provide interoperability among other private radio networks during a crisis. ERT also has a large inventory of handsets and mobile data cards to support short term equipment rental requests and customer deployable ERT Go-Kits.

In the event of an emergency, such as a tropical storm or hurricane, Sprint ERT is prepared to assist first responders and public safety agencies that require effective interoperable wireless communications. In such emergencies, the need for interoperable communications extends well beyond the traditional emergency responders like police, fire and emergency medical services, to include utilities, disaster-relief workers and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels.

Members: Who we are

The core of ERT combines military and public service experience with extensive technical communications experience, and certifications in business continuity, Homeland Security, HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) and project management. ERT members have served in a variety operational positions as diverse as psychological operations, communications and federal investigations in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, police department, fire and EMS. Members hold security clearances up to top secret with the Department of Defense and Department of Justice.

ERT members also have extensive experience working on a variety of communications systems including 800MHz, VHF, UHF and satellite. The diversity of experience in communications extends to field operations, network operations, switching, audio cross connect switch deployment, system performance and radio frequency design.

The team has more than 4,800 deployments in support of federal, state and local incidents, as well as for private sector clients and their needs surrounding business continuity. In areas where Sprint Nextel’s existing network is unable to provide voice and data services, ERT can provide rapidly deployable, satellite back hauled vehicles with voice and IP services for WAN Connectivity and VOIP services.

A Virginia manhunt

One deployment took place in Virginia. On Aug. 16, 2008, authorities commenced a multicounty search for a dangerous suspect who was suspected of shooting two neighbors and a sheriff’s deputy and setting fire to his neighbor’s house. Virginia State Police were searching rural Wythe and Pulaski counties. When a Pulaski County deputy arrived to the scene of the fire, the suspect shot the deputy and then fled into a remote wooded area with a bulletproof vest. Houses in the area were evacuated. Five schools in Wythe County were locked down. As law enforcement authorities from around the state converged on the heavily forested area, they realized they had no commercial coverage and could not communicate as they needed to.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management leveraged the Sprint ERT to deploy a SatCOLT for cellular, push-to-talk and emergency dispatch-capable radio. With communications operating in the search area, the Wythe County Sheriff’s Office apprehended the suspect on August 19. The suspect was charged with capital murder, malicious wounding, arson, breaking and entering and other charges.

The Joplin tornado

A more recent deployment occurred only months ago in Joplin, Mo.; the tornado and storm demolished much of the town. As a result, there were major infrastructure impacts on commercial power, as well as telephone connections were largely cut off in the area. The town hospital, St. John’s Regional Medical Center, also suffered major damage but was preparing to care for the surge of tornado-related injuries.

The ERT deployed to Joplin to provide communications support in the wake of the devastation. The team deployed two SatCOLTs and personnel to support operations that required voice and IP connectivity. ERT SatCOLTs use satellite backhaul and onboard power to operate in the harsh conditions presented after the storm. ERT deployed to Joplin within 24 hours and provided voice and data services to the town’s Joint Operations Center, which became a hub of activity for state and local agencies responding. The Sprint ERT also provided national Sprint voice services and IP connectivity with a VPN tunnel to the St. John’s Regional Medical Center to assist the hospital in its mission and ongoing operations alongside the Missouri Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

The design of the ERT SatCOLT allows it to mitigate commercial power loss and loss of terrestrial Telco. The SatCOLT has onboard power sources—fuel, on board generator and battery backup—and can operate for seven to 10 days without refueling. The SatCOLT also uses satellite backhaul to mitigate loss of commercial Telco and can thus operate independently of the terrestrial network. These are critical design factors because two crucial components to operating a cell site are power and Telco connectivity.

As evidenced by the horrible tornado that hit Joplin communications, being able to coordinate a response is critical to maintaining continuity of operations and organizing recovery efforts.

Coast-to-coast coverage

The ERT has worked alongside public safety and private organizations to be the primary provider of critical communications: from wildfires on one coast to hurricanes on the other; from floods and train derailments in the Northwest to deep freezes and power outages in the Midwest. For nearly a decade, first responders at every level have turned to ERT.

Sprint has also provided communications support and response to large pre-planned events, such as the Democratic and Republican political conventions, the G8 Summit, the Super Bowl and the Presidential Inauguration.


Editor’s note: More about the Sprint ERT can be found online at sprint.com/ert, and on Facebook at SprintEmergencyResponseTeam.