By Dale Stockton
Natural disasters can devastate communities, causing life-threatening conditions and dramatically impacting the government agencies that are expected to respond. Whether conducting a rescue or coordinating a large-scale evacuation, communication services are essential. Accordingly, it is critical that first responders have the right partners by their sides, partners who have been tried and tested to deliver on the promise of reliable and trusted communications.
Man-made emergencies and natural disasters are occurring more often than ever before, anywhere and at any time. And as technology has evolved, so has public safety’s dependency on LTE and 5G networks for mission critical services. In line with its demonstrated commitment to public safety, T-Mobile for Government continues to invest heavily in the resources and personnel that support our nation’s heroes – the first responders who protect and serve our communities.
Emergency Response Team
The T-Mobile Emergency Response Team (ERT) is committed to delivering on the promise of trusted, reliable connectivity for our government and critical lifeline partners during all phases of business operations, continuity of government, and emergency response efforts. The ERT is comprised of a national cross-functional team of professionals experienced in multiple aspects of public safety, homeland security, emergency management operations, and mission-based support. The team is available 24/7/365. ERT engages in all phases of the planning, response, and recovery cycle by:
- Integrating into agency-specific planning, drills, and training exercises
- Helping customers identify and implement technology strategies
- Coordinating communication resources for disaster response
- Facilitating situational awareness and information sharing
- Fostering partnerships across government and industry
ERT personnel have helped first responders handle thousands of emergency and non-emergency situations during the last 20 years, providing support for man-made and natural disasters, as well as national special security, field training exercises, and other public-safety driven events. ERT members regularly partner with agencies and provide solutions that help first responders regain control of situations in the field.
Insight from ERT Members
T-Mobile Business Development Manager Rodney Cooper is a long-time member of the ERT. Hecredits his career in the telecommunications industry – with over twenty years’ experience deploying technology, crafting public safety programs, and developing policy - for preparing him for his role on the ERT. “I joined the telecom industry just three months prior to 9/11,” Cooper said. “I immediately found my passion working in the field, helping solve technical challenges for our public safety community. It’s the one area where I knew I could contribute.”
When a derecho (a tornado-like storm that moves in a straight line) struck central Iowa in August 2020, it caused massive devastation and loss of communications due to downed infrastructure. Three community resource centers designed to help recover after major disasters needed connectivity to further their mission of providing resources to residents who had been impacted by the storm. Cooper arranged for a SatCOLT (Cell on Light Truck with a satellite dish built into the vehicle) and several routers to be brought in that would provide LTE connectivity and access to the T-Mobile network.
“We supported those three disaster recovery centers for nearly three weeks and provided the community much-needed connectivity,” said Cooper. “Once people had access to communications, they were able to talk to loved ones, file insurance claims, request assistance from FEMA, request assistance from the state, and do their online banking.”
Casey Muilenburg is the ERT member responsible for FEMA Regions 9 (California, Nevada, and Arizona) and 10 (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho). He’s been an ERT member for more than ten years and holds multiple FEMA and ICS certifications. He’s also a veteran of both the US Marine Corps and the US Air Force.
“We’ve done hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, super bowls, even presidential events. Whether it’s a disaster or something planned, we want to be a company that provides the best communications solutions along with redundant and resilient services to customers nationwide,” Muilenburg said. “And we try to look beyond just the incident and consider other needs like those people at a shelter might have. We want them to be able to look at their phone and see they have T-Mobile service.”
The McKenzie Fire in Oregon burned more than 173,000 acres in September 2020. After an area government agency reached out to T-Mobile requesting internet and cellular service support, Muilenburg worked to deploy a SatCOLT — particularly critical for a nearby medical facility — and coordinated 30 pre-lit devices for a community elementary school. “We set up a cellular bubble, established Wi-Fi, and provided handsets, including many for the medical facility,” Muilenburg said. “Schools were already struggling because of COVID and a local hotel opened its lobby for kids to use the Wi-Fi. The coordination between federal, state, local, and industry was just incredible. It was a powerful example of how we could come together to support the community.”
Muilenburg was also involved in the ERT response to a wildfire that raged across the Lake Tahoe (California) area for more than two months during late 2021, destroying more than 220,000 acres, leveling more than a thousand structures, and decimating the small community of Grizzly Flats. “During a major evacuation, we were supporting the command post and there was an industry call where everyone was made aware of what different teams were doing,” Muilenburg explained. “We adjusted our cell sites to ensure evacuation routes were supported. Everything was moving very fast, so it was a challenge, and collaboration was critical. Again, an incredible example of different levels of government and industry effectively working together.”
Both Muilenburg and Cooper have strong feelings about their ERT responsibilities. “When people can’t communicate, they feel lost. For ERT to come in and provide that temporary solution until the network is back online, it’s a great opportunity to serve,” explained Muilenburg.
“When we talk about the mission of the T-Mobile ERT, that’s what it’s all about – we do what we do, because it’s the right thing to do. It’s simply a duty to our first responders, our communities, and the nation in whole,” Cooper said.
24/7 ERT Hotline: 888-639-0020 and ERTeam@T-Mobile.com
For more information on effective disaster planning strategies for public safety, check out the T-Mobile Emergency Response Team eBook.
You can also learn more about how T-Mobile is helping public safety agencies improve operational effectiveness and the T-Mobile Connecting Heroes program designed just for first responders by visiting T-Mobile.com/PublicSafety.
About the Author
Dale Stockton is a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement, having worked in all areas of police operations and retiring as a police captain from Carlsbad, California. He taught criminal justice classes for more than 20 years and is the former Editor-in-Chief of Law Officer Magazine and LawOfficer.com. Stockton is the founder of Below 100, an award-winning officer-safety initiative designed to reduce police line-of-duty deaths and has been involved in the presentation of the program across North America. Stockton is an accomplished technology practitioner and has managed major technology projects for public safety including personnel-locate devices, license plate recognition systems, and regional deployment of smartphones.