Disaster drill staged at Soldier Field

May 9, 2014 (CHICAGO)

The goal was to keep first responders in constant communication with each other during a major disaster. When disaster strikes and communication is gone, it's not just a loss of cell towers. First responders can't even talk to each other and time is critical.

"That core communication is essential so the city can come back on line first for the emergency responders then the businesses in that area to they can go back to business as normal," said Kelly Morrison, AT&T senior tech specialist.

Kelly Morrison is with AT and T's Network Disaster Recovery Team. They're in Chicago drilling to handle scenarios they hope will never happen. They've handled the real deal, including September 11, Hurricane Sandy and before that, Katrina, with a 250-mile diameter area without service and power. The challenge is to bring in a lot of gear, and be self-sufficient.

"So you come into an area with a big technology compound, and you're not gonna have power," said Morrison.

So they bring in their own power on 600 kilowatt trailers and more: cable superhighways, a command center where the critical players are linked, fiber hub trailers which are like giant switchboards, and they get people talking again with what they call a colt, a mobile satellite dish in or on a truck that initially restores cell communication by satellite until the infrastructure can be rebuilt.

Part of the challenge in disaster recovery is saying current, because the technology keeps changing. Everything grows smaller, but seemingly more efficient, like a mini-colt that's like a portable cell tower.

"Something like a remote wildfire, we set this up, do a footprint of coverage, leave it behind with a generator and they set up another one," said Morrison.

Even with the latest gear, and best know-how, disaster recovery takes time. This team was at Hurricane Sandy for a couple months. So they keep practicing for that next deployment to somewhere when disaster strikes and communication is gone.

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