Emergency Response: How BT helps restore telecoms in disaster situations

The Emergency Response Team are staff and volunteers ready to respond to natural disasters in minutes to help protect BT’s network and support the emergency services.

The UK is being hit by severe weather, with torrential rain disrupting parts of the UK. Over the last few years there has been a rise in the number of natural disasters, such as the severe floods that hit Cumbria in 2015 and Northern Ireland in 2017.

These incidents can be devastating to local communities, damaging homes but also threatening communications - not just for residents to make calls and use the internet, but for the emergency services. The hugely important job of restoring those communications falls to BT’s Emergency Response Team (ERT). Check out the video below to find out more about what the team does.

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The ERT is a core team of seven supported by 50 volunteers, who are engineers and managers from across BT and across the UK. The team is responsible for defending BT’s assets such as telephone exchanges.

Steve Adams, heads up the Emergency Response Team and says losing an exchange can have a significant impact: “We lose a telephone exchange in any community, we’re going to be losing banks, the ability for swipe cards, mobile phones potentially, certainly your broadband, certainly landline.”

Day or night, 365 days a year if an exchange is threatened, members of the team are deployed to protect it. They work proactively - setting up barriers outside exchanges to protect from flooding, for instance - as well as reactively, using high-tech pumps to quickly remove water after events like flash floods.

When the Emergency Response Team is on a job, its members communicate independently from BT’s network. Their vehicles such as the Tactical Command Unit are equipped with satellite to provide communications for the public and emergency services

“In any given situation we can arrive in one of our vehicles and in a matter of minutes, establish a satellite link and off that link we can provide wi-fi, voice over IP and access to the internet,” says Adams.

BT Emergency Response Team flood rescue

It’s important for the team to be prepared, so twice a year they come together to undergo training, which can involve building flood defences, incident management, breathing apparatus training (in the event of contact with remnants of a fire or threats like asbestos) and flood rescue (pictured above). Each team member undergoes extensive first aid training with West Midlands Ambulance Service.

Adams is proud of the team: “The guys work tremendously hard, they’ve been selected for their skills within the business, from managing to engineering grades.

“It always comes as a surprise that BT provides this service, but the Emergency Services are very, very appreciative… We are there to help.”

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