By Chris Sambar, Executive Vice President – AT&T Technology Operations
When disaster strikes, keeping first responders and our other customers connected is our priority – and the specific mission of our Network Disaster Response (NDR) team. Unwavering commitment, continuous improvement, and deploying the latest in technology solutions for restoring service fast has been the hallmark of our program since it began in 1992.
Today, we introduced another industry-first with the addition of FirstNet One, a deployable blimp, to our FirstNet response fleet. As the next step beyond our ground-breaking use of drones and Flying COWs™ (Cell on Wings), this latest foray into the sky further broadens the reach of our fleet of temporary service solutions, which includes ground-based assets such as Cell on Wheels (COWs) and heavy-duty Satellite Cell on Light Trucks or SatCOLTs.
Unfortunately, catastrophes like earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods won’t simply just stop occurring. Being prepared is the best way to combat these inevitable events and we do that through our NDR team – we’ve invested more than $650 million in our program, making it one of the industry’s largest and most advanced. In fact, the team has been deployed more than 200 times since 2011 with 12 deployments in 2019 alone, including support for Hurricane Dorian, flooding in the Midwest, and California wildfires.
NDR’s mobile fleet is maintained in 4, strategically placed warehouses across the country, plus a 5th location supporting our markets overseas. And to serve public safety even further, more than 40 sites nationwide house the FirstNet fleet of dedicated deployable network assets, enabling a 14-hour delivery window following the initial emergency request.
Like our Flying COWs™, when deployed FirstNet One provides LTE coverage across the targeted area during times of disasters. FirstNet One is portable and can fly up to 1,000 feet for approximately 2 weeks before needing additional helium top-off, which means it has advantages in altitude and duration. It can also reduce the need for other traditional temporary ground-based assets, such as SatCOLTs.
With this cutting-edge addition, the FirstNet fleet of nationwide dedicated network assets for public safety use grows to 76, including SatCOLTs, COWs and Flying COWs™. Like the other 75 portable assets, FirstNet One is available 24/7 at no additional charge to FirstNet subscribers.
FirstNet One could operate during major disasters like last year’s Hurricane Michael, where assets were deployed for 3+ months in the Florida panhandle while recovery efforts were underway. This is the latest chapter in our spirit of service heritage and demonstrates our belief in the ability to make a better world through technology.