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OIT Provides Temporary Emergency Communications in Disaster Situations

News | January 18, 2019 | IT Strategic Communication | Views: 772
Image provided by POC Rick Zigrosser: the DR-COOP team getting briefed next to a tent set up for mobile operations.

Plum cases arrive, each lined with foam rubber nestling a super-hotspot capable of providing network access for up to 30 computers. Communications technicians set up satellite technology and begin transmitting signals to geostationary satellites to establish phone lines and internet connections spanning oceans and thousands of miles. Infrastructure operations personnel begin connecting devices into available networks.

These quiet professionals are not actors in an action film; this is the real-life work of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OIT) Disaster Recovery – Continuity of Operations (DR-COOP) team. VA’s DR-COOP travels across the United States responding to any disaster situation that threatens vital VA operations.

Thinking quickly on their feet, DR-COOP fields reports from emergency, preparedness, and operations offices within VA and acts to recover services and IT resources. This includes rerouting lines of communication to circumvent downed lines. They also coordinate restoration of VA systems and network connections so that healthcare providers can regain access to electronic health and pharmacy records required for Veterans to receive the care and medication they need. The temporary emergency lines of communication are then made available to Veterans who need to contact loved ones.

After Hurricane Michael made landfall on the Florida panhandle on October 10, 2018, DR-COOP supported emergency communications to re-establish Veteran healthcare and counseling as well as outreach to affected local clinics. The team set up mobile operations in the parking lot of a large local retailer. There, they provided laptops, emergency satellite communications, and wireless routers to connect to the VA network, working closely with Biloxi, Mississippi, VA staff. DR-COOP also collaborated with major cell phone service providers, arranging for a mobile network unit to restore service. In addition, the team set up patient care equipment and provided situation reports for VA to monitor progress and any further needed actions. Through it all, DR-COOP met the IT needs of the Panama City East and Marianna Community-Based Outpatient Clinics while also supporting two Mobile Medical Units, a mobile canteen, a mobile pharmacy, and a Mobile Vet Center.

While VA works year-round to develop disaster plans, it isn’t possible to anticipate every factor. “We know things are going to break, we just don’t know what or where. We plan the best we can to anticipate the people and equipment likely to be needed during a particular response, but no two events are ever the same, so we need to be ready for anything,” said Rick Zigrosser, Acting Manager of DR-COOP.

DR-COOP’s work is vital to supporting continuity of VA operations and demonstrates to Veterans that their needs are our priority even in disaster situations. As VA strives to continually improve customer service, VA will do whatever we can to provide essential IT and communications services wherever and whenever Veterans need them.

Page last updated on July 22, 2019