Verizon enlists drones, SDN and airborne LTE in demos with first responders

Drones are just one of the pieces of technology that Verizon supports for first responders; robots, flying LTE balloons and pop-up LTE networks are some of the others.

Reviewing the video of Verizon’s emergency preparedness demo in Perry, Georgia, you might think you’re watching previews of this summer’s blockbuster sci-fi or horror movies, complete with robots slithering through a damaged subway, drones hovering overhead and actors being rescued from all kinds of horrific situations.

But it was really a way for Verizon and more than 20 of its technology partners to showcase what they can do for first responders in all sorts of potential real-life situations. Dubbed Operation Convergent Response, the event brought together Verizon, Nokia and a slew of other companies as well as first responders, state and local government officials and business leaders. They converged at The Guardian Center, a place set up to do these kinds of exercises. Local NBC affiliate TV station 41WMGT posted this video.

The scenarios included: an F4 tornado with major casualties; a building collapse at a chemical factory; a subway terror attack; flooding of a residential neighborhood; and an active shooter/hostage situation. Each of the scenarios was repeated several times as participants were split into groups and went through the drills.

The demo showed what’s possible with surveillance cameras powered by Verizon’s 4G LTE network, with first responders able to fly a drone into a flooded neighborhood, for example, identifying where people needed to be rescued and making decisions on the spot based on the video.

In this case, the drone identified someone at risk of drowning in the water and communicated back to another drone to bring a life jacket out and drop it near the person.

“What you’re doing with these drones is you’re putting technology out there that can help first responders make smart decisions and make quick decisions to make the most impact on the situation and protect them along the way,” said Mike Maiorana, SVP Sales Public Sector for Verizon, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech.

Verizon has a long and successful history of working with the government and first responders nationwide to support their day-to-day and emergency situations and these latest exercises reinforced that commitment, he said.

“Here at Verizon we’re focused on continuing our support of first responders,” he said, declining to comment specifically on FirstNet, the nationwide public safety network awarded to rival AT&T. But he said Verizon has many federal, state and local public safety clients that have chosen Verizon for many reasons, including “our network superiority and how we provide support 24/7, 365 and quite frankly, our partner ecosystem.”

No 5G was deployed as part of last week's exercise but Verizon in many markets across the country is on a path to do 5G fixed wireless deployments. “5G certainly is only going to make this stuff better,” he said.

An air balloon that was tethered and flying about 100 feet in the sky was used to propagate and provide an instant 4G LTE network for voice and data communications. Nokia also provided its backpacks that allow someone to instantly propagate a 4G LTE network for voice and data services inside a building if, for example, the DAS in the building has been damaged due to disaster.

The event also demonstrated how Verizon’s push-to-talk interoperability solution works and how its new SDN Perimeter service can be used prevent cyber attacks by building a virtual boundary around the network.

Operation Convergent Response was Southeast-centric but it actually brought together people from around the country. Verizon doesn’t have anything to announce right now in terms of the next demonstration site, but “we’re looking to do more of this,” Maiorana said.