Hurricane Recovery

Incident Management Team Utilizes Cradlepoint Solution to Create an Emergency Command Center for Fast, Reliable Disaster Recovery

Success Story Highlights

Challenge: The network infrastructure in the Port St. Joseph, Florida area had been completely wiped away by Hurricane Michael, eliminating any chances for communication to come in or go out. A network connection needed to be established immediately for access to outside agencies to begin recovering the devastating damage to the town and resources to its citizens.

Solution: Scott Ballard and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Incident Management Team (IMT) leveraged Cradlepoint’s COR Series routers with a dual-SIM modem and the MC400 FirstNet ReadyTM modem, providing a fast and reliable network connection.

Benefits: With the reliable Cradlepoint enabled network connection, the IMT could set up the Gulf County Emergency Operation Center (EOC) and immediately begin calling in resources. Other agencies in the area could also utilize the constant connection to assist in the recovery process.

Challenges

When Ballard and the IMT were notified they would be deployed to Florida to assist in the recovery of Hurricane Michael the day after it hit, they knew they would need a reliable network solution that could be deployed quickly.

No Time for Lengthy Set Up and Troubleshooting

At that time, Hurricane Michael, a category 5 hurricane, was the third most pressure-intense hurricane to make landfall in the continental U.S. and the fourth-strongest in terms of maximum sustained winds (155 mph) according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The destruction was massive and wide-felt in the region — ranging from the collapsing of commercial and industrial buildings and city blocks of residential homes being wiped away. There was extensive flooding, and the local power companies announced the hurricane’s winds left over 200,000 people in the region without power.

The team was able to land in Jacksonville, Florida, but couldn’t get any closer to Port St. Joseph because of the force of the storm. After spending nearly seven hours trying to access Port St. Joseph, winding through roads with blown over trees and power lines, the team finally arrived. It was apparent to them that it would be a challenge to regain emergency communications and begin to access resources for recovery.

“Many of the buildings were completely obliterated with pieces blown yards away and pushed by the storm surge,” said

Scott Ballard, Communication Unit Leader, Oregon State Fire Marshal’s IMT.

Network Infrastructure Completely Destroyed

With no trace of an infrastructure, there was no communication going in or out. The team needed a network connection immediately to begin accessing outside resources, alert recovery agencies of the severity of the situation, and start recovery assistance.

Solution

Ballard and the team utilized a Cradlepoint IBR1700 dual-SIM and a second MC400 FirstNet Ready modem — powered by a 23,000-mA rechargeable battery making it possible to manage the Gulf County EOC, as well as numerous first responder agencies and support partners assisting in a successful hurricane recovery operation.

As the Communications Unit Leader (COML), Ballard needed to attempt to establish some kind of outside communication. He started with an in-reach satellite receiver and paired it with his smartphone. By doing this he was able to text location coordinates to contacts in Portland, Oregon and request a cell on wheels (COW) truck. The COW arrived that afternoon with the Cradlepoint IBR1700 solution and the team was up and operating with network connectivity.

Benefits

Reliable Network Access & Simple Configuration for Fast Disaster Recovery

The team was quickly able to set up the Cradlepoint router. Users had to merely sign-in to access it.

"It was a very simple process. Once it was plugged in it basically did everything itself,” said Ballard.

The Cradlepoint allowed numerous agencies and first responders to hit the ground running to help assist the affected citizens of Gulf County and create a digital emergency communications stream.

“The room was bustling the whole time with all levels of first responders from police, fire, EMS, the hospital, utility companies, military, volunteer coordinators, Red Cross, to local Internet providers all talking on the phone and passing information to coordinate rescue and recovery actions,” said Ballard.

Dependable Connectivity for Interoperability

Soon after the Cradlepoint was up and running, the Florida State Radio Technicians (FSRT) began to bring in resources for local Gulf County Law Enforcement, Fire, and EMS groups — including LMR (Land Mobile) radios. Unfortunately, the radios were an upgraded digital version, making communication with the ANALOG radios impossible.

To quickly address the dilemma and deliver interoperable communication, FSRT sent in State of Florida handheld radios that could work with the ANALOG radios, and were supported by the Cradlepoint router for programming and rapid deployment. The radios were distributed to all public safety units as well as the 911 center, vastly improving the efficiency and reach of communication.
24x7 Customer Support for Quick Resolution of Issues

A day or two into the event there was a power surge and the agencies lost some of the power indicator lights on the Cradlepoint. Ballard contacted Cradlepoint and they were quickly able to remotely diagnose the problem and fix it.

“I really appreciate the support that Cradlepoint gave me to make sure the router remained functioning,” said Ballard.

Cradlepoint’s quick response and attentive support ensured that responses and communications didn’t stop — a critical aspect in these crisis situations.

The Most Reliable Network Connection

Over time more resources began to come in, as well as more network assistance. The military had a unit with Internet access and WiFi, and eventually the local WiFi came back. Responders were bouncing back and forth between the access points trying to get the best connection, which they quickly discovered was the Cradlepoint solution.

“The most reliability was in the Cradlepoint and that’s the one that my team used primarily,” said Ballard. "Without the Cradlepoint, we would have had to depend on the military or the local WiFi, which would have been saturated by all the people trying to get a connection.”

Once recovery was in process, the Cradlepoint solution remained deployed and was still in use approximately 14 days after the IMT had returned home after their two week deployment.

“Having the Internet was invaluable during this disaster, and the Cradlepoint ended up proving its worth,” said Ballard.

The Cradlepoint solution was utilized for tasks such as mapping, requesting resources, and keeping the logistics teams in contact with the state EOC.

As additional resources were expected to arrive, some being additional response groups, a second Cradlepoint was setup to cover the tent areas behind the EOC to support their Internet needs.

Field Tested & Approved for Future Relief & Recovery Missions

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s IMT plan to use the kits in future rescue missions.

“Without hesitation, we will definitely request the kits with the Cradlepoint solution in the future,” said Ballard. “The solution was critical to fast, effective emergency response.”

As a member and board member of Mountain Wave Search and Rescue, Ballard plans to incorporate the Cradlepoint kits on search and rescue missions in remote areas of the Cascade Mountain range where network solutions are required for fast, reliable connectivity.