New Disaster Response Report: ‘Business As Usual: How AT&T deals with Natural Disasters’

(Image; AT&T Training exercise, Source: AT&T)

The role of disaster risk reduction in the business world is taking on a greater importance as companies strengthen their risk management capacities in order to remain competitive and ensure sustainability. Company disaster recovery plans are becoming more detailed and forcing those of their suppliers to become more rigorous, through extensive auditing and supplier management practices. In the United States, recent disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, have underscored the critical importance of a well structured and prepared disaster response plan for mobile network operators.

This case study from the GSMA Disaster Response programme details the extensive reach and rigorous procedures that make up the Network Disaster Recovery plan of the largest telecommunications provider in the USA, AT&T. The report focuses on the work of the Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team.

The NDR team has clear guidance and leadership from AT&T executives and plays a key role in helping to protect revenue, save costs for the wider AT&T business and in turn build a strong reputation with clients which in turn attracts new business. The existence of a consistent and stable core team, strong management and following a structured path within a response framework, has enabled the NDR team to help protect the lives of their staff, the wellbeing of their subscribers, their business assets and the community at large. In such a large and populous country with a varied natural disaster risk profile, AT&T is already one of the foremost private sector organisations in responding to disasters. In summary the key lessons for other operators are:

Cross-Functional NDR Team

The existence of a cross-functional NDR team is critical. Made-up of both full time members and volunteers the AT&T NDR team is carefully chosen to reflect their skillset, experience, knowledge and capacity to perform under pressure. This team also has a stable structure and an internal continuity, as referenced by the interview with the veteran Ron Anderson.

Disaster Exercises and Partnerships

Disaster exercises gives NDR staff experience of reacting to disasters, working in often harrowing conditions and training in what the requirements are. Furthermore, the exercises strengthen partnerships across the departments within the mobile operator and those partnerships with external agencies such as the fire department and police service. These exercises also give the NDR team management observations and data which they can feed back into their existing plans to fine tune them for efficiency.


Following a framework in order to become certified adds a structure to the preparedness and recovery plans. It also gives confidence to team members, the wider business staff and clients that best-practice is being followed. While achieving the certification in the first place is very important, it should be noted that regular audits and maintaining the certification further strengthens the business processes around the NDR team.

Fleet of Recovery Equipment

The extensive investment poured into the hardware, equipment and assets used by the NDR team is unparalleled. While the most regularly used equipment is the ECV or the SatColt, AT&T have preparations made for the recovery of large switching centres and IP hubs through the development of other extensive recovery equipment. In a telecommunications environment which is dynamic and progressive by its very nature, the team develops and evolves recovery equipment to match all new developments within their business.

AT&T have helped lead the way for other operators around the world to develop similar recovery teams and plans and build effective partnerships in their own countries. Given the requests from emergency responders, the humanitarian community and the clients of telecommunications firms to play an increasing role in disaster response, it has never been more pressing for the mobile operators to help change the face of disaster response.

Download the full report here 

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