Harris Helps Irma Preparation, Response
The workdays could not have been more intense in the windowless public safety communications nerve center.
Harris technicians were hunched over their terminals making sure rescuers were connected as they waded in the Houston floodwaters helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Even as they successfully carried out that important mission, another storm churned in the Atlantic that would carry more personal implications.
The Harris Network Operations Center is in Orlando.
Hurricane Irma was heading right for it.
“We all thought ‘this one’s going to be right in our own backyard’,” said NOC technician Steve Crouch. “We’ve got a job to do and we did it well, but it was a little different when the storm was right outside your door.”
Florida is home to the company’s corporate headquarters and facilities in 15 different locations. The NOC technicians are among more than 6,000 Harris employees in the state, many of whom also support mission-critical customer programs – including providing communications capabilities to thousands of Florida first responders who would be called upon to help.
Before the storm made landfall, Harris deployed hundreds of radios and accessories to the state capital, Tallahassee, doing whatever it took to keep first responders connected. Support employees worked around the clock with customers to make sure resources were strategically placed. It helped – Harris was the first public safety system restored in the hard-hit Florida Keys following the storm.
Harris operates the Florida State Law Enforcement Radio System, which connects officers in 22 state agencies and 97 police forces and other partners around the state, including the Florida Highway Patrol and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
As the storm loomed, state agencies reached out to Harris to have additional radios ready for their response. Employees in Virginia worked tirelessly preparing the radios and making sure they shipped in time to help during the storm. The equipment arrived early Sunday morning, hours before Irma made landfall in South Florida.
In the meantime, Harris employees carried out hurricane preparations at locations across the state, securing facilities and ensuring there was no lapse in service to customers.
“These teams were running on minimal hours of sleep doing whatever they had to do to get critical communications restored,” said Nino DiCosmo, president of Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications. “And let’s not forget many of these folks live in the middle of this disaster, and are going through it with their own families. It’s truly amazing to watch the commitment and dedication of our teams.”
Prior to the storm, Harris also transitioned its FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) and Harris Trusted Enterprise Network (HTEN) primary network operations centers in Melbourne to the back-up center in Atlanta. This required the seamless switchover of all network operations command and control, and the mobilization of more than 70 engineers and analysts from Melbourne to Atlanta and back again. Normal operations in Melbourne were quickly restored.
The FTI network securely connects more than 4,400 national and international FAA and Department of Defense facilities, manages more than 26,000 services and supports more than 50,000 users. The HTEN is a private, secure network designed for large enterprises to securely transport substantial amounts of mission-critical information. It is used by government agencies, the military and first responders, among others. It contains more than 15,000 fiber route miles with 100 gigabits of capacity on each route, and more than 30 points of presence across the U.S.
Harris weather technology was also key throughout the storm. Similar to Hurricane Harvey, forecasters relied upon the Harris-built instrument on the GOES-16 NOAA satellite to provide high-resolution imaging as the storm approached. This helped them sound the alarm for those in the storm’s path and allowed residents to evacuate and otherwise prepare before it made landfall.
Harris imaging technology on satellites operated by DigitalGlobe also provided detailed before-and-after images of the effects of both hurricanes. The images covered both the United States and areas of the Caribbean affected by Irma, providing important insight to emergency response officials.
Harris employees also came together to help one another after the storm’s impact. In Brevard County, on the state’s east coast where about 6,000 employees live and work, the company quickly put together a peer-to-peer sharing program so that employees who needed assistance with storm damage could connect with their colleagues willing to help. Offers of help outnumbered requests for assistance nearly threefold.
Harris’ work is not done, as technology and crews stand ready to assist in challenging circumstances.
“Harris is committed to providing communications support to first responders today, tomorrow and in the future,” DiCosmo said. “It has been said that adversity reveals character, and those with character have a responsibility to act in times of crisis. When customers need Harris the most, they get the best.”