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BT’s emergency response team expands

Tactical command unit

BT has increased the capability of its emergency response team (ERT) with more members, vehicles, equipment and locations across the UK. The expansion follows learning from repairing extensive damage when severe floods hit Cumbria.

Extreme weather

The ERT provides a proactive and reactive capability to deal with threats to our fixed and mobile networks in the UK. In recent years these have been dominated by extreme weather events, mainly flooding. The team is on standby round-the-clock, dealing with threats that range from floods, other weather damage and fires. It proactively protects critical assets, such as telephone exchanges, considered at risk and if that fails, helps restore service as quickly as possible. In parallel, it helps affected communities by providing them with emergency communications facilities such as Wi-Fi until normal service can be resumed.

The team has a core of seven full-time members, supported by a larger team of BT people from across our business who can be released from their regular work when required. We’ve now boosted the team from 20 to 50 members, including retained firefighters and ex-armed forces personnel. And we’ve added people from EE to those from our Technology, Service & Operations, Openreach, Wholesale & Ventures, BT Fleet and BT Security businesses. Team members must be able to use their existing knowledge, along with specialist ERT skills, ensuring that they are always ready to support operational deployments.

Specialist equipment

Hostile environments require a great deal of specialist equipment, much of which has been specified by BT. The team has 12 vehicles, including a Land Rovers and other 4x4s, able to tackle difficult terrain. It also has generators, mobile satellite dishes, boats a mobile office and pneumatic line throwers, which are used, for example, to restore network cabling when bridges that carry cables have collapsed. The pneumatic launcher is a light-weight shoulder-launched line thrower, a vertical distance of over 100' can be achieved with great accuracy. The team also has breathing apparatus capability, enabling members to work in extremely hostile environments.

The team operates in challenging situations and the role requires members to be physically fit, capable of walking over six miles on rough terrain, swim a minimum of 200 metres and able to work at height and in confined spaces. All members will be required to work away from home for undetermined periods of time when necessary, they must also be on call for short notice operational deployments if required.

The team’s main locations are its headquarters at BT’s Madley Communications Centre in Herefordshire and another secondary site in Thornaby, near Middlesbrough. There are a series of smaller sites across the UK, hosting communication capabilities and flood defences. The team has already dealt with a number of emergencies in places around the UK, including Oswestry, Great Yarmouth, Glenridding, Manchester York and Carlisle.

ERT’s work in the Caribbean

ERT in the Caribbean 

But the team can reach much further than the UK. Following Hurricane Irma’s devastation September 2017, the UK Government asked if BT could support humanitarian relief effort in the Caribbean’s British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands. BT offered the assistance of the ERT; deployment was rapid, backed by multiple teams across BT, including the ERT operations centre in Madley.

During the three week deployment the team installed four satellite communications sites on four islands, reconnecting the communities to support the extended relief effort for the inhabitants. The equipment remained on the islands and is supported by local experts as it will take many months to fully restore the Islands to their former state.

We know from smaller incidents in the UK how communications is vital for communities, individuals and businesses, let alone the sort of devastation the rest of the world sees. So it’s vital that we maintain this sort of capability in order that not only day-to-day and emergency communications can continue, but communications that help communities and emergency services recover from disasters.