Their full name is the "Network Emergency Response Vehicle" or NERV. It's a 25-ton, 33 foot-long truck filled with technology. Cisco built two of them, one based in Silicon Valley and the other in Raleigh, North Carolina. They sit ready to be deployed to help first responders with a communications network in a disaster.
"Even if everything else is down, the cell phone service is down, we'll be up because we are going to the satellite, but we also have TV receivers," Disaster Response Team Coordinator Tiago DaCosta Silva explained. "So, we can get news channels, we can get weather channels, and we can actually have them, being inside the truck, see that information or even stream those channels into their laptops."
The NERV provides incident commanders with voice, video, and data capability damaged by storms and other catastrophes essential to coordinate relief efforts. It was deployed three years ago when a fiber optic cable was cut in Santa Clara County. The vehicle or smaller kits have also been deployed during fires, floods and hurricanes in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Brazil, and following earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and in Japan last year.
Now, it's on standby for the storm ravaged East Coast. Cisco's disaster team has been watching Sandy since it took aim on the U.S. "We're expecting and kind of gearing up that the next 48 hours is going to probably be more important than the last 48 hours," Cisco Senior Vice President Patrick Finn told ABC7 News.
With emergency personnel coming in from different agencies, the NERV is able to make portable communications devices work seamlessly whether or not they're compatible. "It takes the radios and using standard voice-over IP technologies, it allows you to hook those radios into the infrastructure. Once they become a device on the network, you can then have them communicate with each other," Network Consulting Engineer Catherine Nelson said.
Cisco has 10 full-time engineers assigned to the two NERV trucks. There are also 300 volunteers who go through specialized training. Cisco won't say how much money is involved in all of this except to say that lending a helping hand when it's needed is priceless.