Emergency Telecommunications for Wildfire Operations

A look at how the U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE establish emergency communications while operating at wildland incidents.


Like First Responders, VZW forward-deploys their equipment. “We have dozens and dozens of these stationed throughout [our service areas] and in addition we have GOATs,” Muche affirmed.

Going the Extra Mile

VZW believes in making sure everything will work when seconds count, too. “Our equipment has a lot of redundancy, backup power, including on cell towers, where we have batteries that will last for 6-8 hours and generators that will run on gas for another eight hours, and when they run out, we can bring in a GOAT,” said Muche. “This is the case for COLTs and COWs as well.”

And they support base camp operations. “We also provide charging stations at the Red Cross stations to charge cell phone batteries, hook up laptops with wireless connectivity, and for those who don’t have a cell phone because they had to flee, we’ll loan them cell phones to make as many free calls as they need to make,” Muche pointed out. “We also take the laptops and netbooks, along with the charging centers, out to the command centers for firefighters, sheriffs and other First Responders because they’re often not near commercial centers [with cell towers], and they may not have their chargers with them, so we bring patch cords that they can use, so there’s a lot that we do at these crises.”

Muche says that VZW not only forward deploys cell phones for emergency use by agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and CAL FIRE, they help them get up and running in any kind of a crisis right away. “We also have an emergency hotline that we share with First Responders,” he reported. “We deploy hundreds of cell phones, wireless modems, and laptops for these folks.”

Besides that, VZW does due diligence around their existing cell sites so that communications are not interrupted when wildfires come calling at their facilities. “Another thing we do that can make the difference between a cell tower working or melting down in a wildfire is regular weed and brush abatement,” added Muche.

MIKE ARCHER is an author, wildfire consultant, systems engineer, and public speaker who has been interviewed by CBS News, KABC-TV, USA Today, and the Associated Press on wildfire topics, and has been part of a delegation testifying before government bodies (including Congress and the California Senate) on fire-related issues. He runs the Wildfire News of the Day blog and Firebomber Publications.