Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast. In hard-hit Hoboken, N.J. — a 1-square mile city across from Manhattan, N.Y., with about 50,000 residents — water flooded fire stations and power outages shut down communications, said Richard Blohm, chief of the Hoboken Fire Department. Even days after the storm, power outages continued to interrupt both public-safety and cellular communications, Blohm said.
So, the Hoboken Fire Department contacted Verizon and requested a Wireless Emergency Communication Center. The WECC is a generator-powered mobile unit that has a device charging and computer workstations, wireless phones, tablets and other devices so people can communication over the 4G LTE network. WECCs are powered through generators and were placed in areas along the East Coast where power was down. The mobile center gives first responders and citizens an opportunity to stay connected to friends and family, to get e-mails, to charge devices and to make sure they can let other people know they are OK, said a Verizon spokesperson.
Blohm said only one landline was functional at the city’s emergency operations center. So Verizon also used voice over IP (VOIP) and added five additional lines in the WECC — one for the National Guard, one for EMS and the other three for CERT members who were answering questions from powerless citizens.
The Hoboken Fire Department also lost a repeater early in the storm, proving why reliable backup power is an essential component of the overall LMR system and is needed for radio communications to survive such a massive disaster, said Motorola’s David White, the company’s territory vice president for the government, northeastern states. The repeater was on top of the Stephens Institute, a private university, which maintained the back-up generator.
Whileprovides the radio system for Hoboken Fire, the company did not provide the generator or any maintenance for those generators. However, they do provide that service for other areas affected by Sandy as part of their overall solution. White said this includes exercising those generators to make sure they are a working component in the LMR system, especially before massive storms like Sandy.
White said days prior to Sandy hitting, his team executed what the company calls “public-safety emergency,” where staff is on a 24/7 alert. Any solutions needed in the event of the storm get priority over other customer orders. Team members also are sent onsite to test generators supporting Motorola systems prior to the expected storm impact.
It is essential to test systems continually and deploy experts prior to big storms, White said.
“You are making sure everything is working ahead of time, specifically the power issues,” he said.
To learn more about radio communications during Superstorm Sandy, check out the February issue of FIRE CHIEF.