Communications giant Verizon is a global presence in communications: and in the drone industry, Verizon Skyward is a leading drone management platform. 5G, drone inspections, and drone communications make Verizon an important player in the drone industry. For one department in the company, however, drones are being used as a critical tool for emergency response.
Within the Verizon organization is a small and dedicated team that stands ready and waiting to support law enforcement and first responders when needed. DRONELIFE spoke with Michael Begonis, Communications Manager, and Jason Mitchell, Senior Manager of the Verizon Crisis Response Team for an inside look at how they use drones, phones, and communications tools to support public safety teams as they respond to emergencies.
The Verizon Crisis Response Team (which operates under the umbrella of the Verizon Response Team) is made up of 24 professionals – with more than 250 years of combined experience in military and emergency response. As part of the Verizon Frontline program, they are a rapid deploy unit on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their job is to support public safety and first responder teams, in whatever way that they can.
On blue sky days, the team prepares for the next deployment. “We are a 24/7, 365 rapid deploy unit that gets ready to run to a crisis. We’re always preparing. We’re always working to see what we can do better, or how we can mitigate the risk next time… if we run to a crisis and we’ve worked with a community, we’re reaching back out afterwards to see what works.”
On the “dark sky” days, the team goes out. Most of them have been deployed by the military or law enforcement before. Now, they head out armed with technology solutions to assist in any situation they are called to: search and rescue in remote areas without robust communications infrastructure, fires, floods, earthquakes, and more.
” ‘Verizon Frontline’ is more than a slogan for us. We have a more than 30 year history of working with first responders: with a ‘run to a crisis’ attitude,” Jason Mitchell explains. “Our goal is to provide mission critical communications and support public safety so that communities can start getting back to normal as soon as possible [after an emergency.]” The team does whatever is needed to help after a disaster: they create augmented networks with satellites or bigger antennaes in emergency areas; enable land mobile radio (LMR) systems; they show up at emergency shelters to set up internet and loan out phones so that victims can communicate with their families – all at zero cost to the communities. And, they use drones to assist with aerial reconnaisance and search and rescue operations.
Drones and Verizon’s Crisis Response Team
The team got into drones for emergency response when they realized that they were the best way to achieve aerial reconaissance: and that they had potential to assist even more in the future. “We didn’t want drones to become just another project,” says Mitchell. “The drone program was really purpose driven.” The team uses DJI Mavic 2 drones equipped with a fly more kit and smart controller: and they’ve standardized the way that they are used. “Our drone commander comes with experience from the military as an air traffic controller,” Mitchell explains. “We really wanted to take the same approach as a drone company – we’ve created flight standards and training levels. We had a lot of first time flyers who really took to it.”
“Skyward has been instrumental for us: we can manage our drones, our batteries, our LAANC approvals – it’s amazing. We’ve done a lot with the management side to make sure that we’re flying safe. We use checklists and tags: if a pilot flies 2,000 feet away, for example, the system is going to tag that so that we can have conversations about it and learn from that.”
Looking Towards the Future
Mitchell says the team is looking forward to implementing more drone applications in the future, as regulations and techology allow. “I’m really excited for payload delivery,” he says. “For us, the idea of being able to deliver a flip phone to people stranded over a flooded road way is ideal. Really, the sky is the limit.”
The entire Verizon organization is involved in the 5G rollout, and Mitchell says that’s a big development for emergency response, too. With 5G, explains Michael Begonis, latency between drone feeds and ground systems can virtually disappear. “5G is really exciting. We’re going to be able to see ambulances that provide instant data feeds to hospitals, and drones that are going to be able to send real time data to people thousands of miles away.”
In the near term, the team is looking at implementing new sensors, like LiDAR payloads. “The drone program is always purpose driven – we’re always looking at what first responders are going to need next and how we can meet those evolving needs,” says Mitchell. The Verizon Frontline team is driving innovation to go even further, looking at issues like storm prediction to try and mitigate the impact of natural disasters. The Verizon Crisis Response Team is always ready to use whatever tools are available to get the communications network running and support front line first responders. “The world we live in is an amazing time,” says Mitchell.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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