IBM and Cisco recently collaborated on an emergency response service that mixes consultancy services with rugged voice- and data-communications systems designed to restore enterprise and government network systems during crises.

Hurricane Katrina exposed cracks in communication disaster planning, and the event was the main impetus for the companies to team up to develop better ways to quickly re-establish communications, said Bob Browning, senior manager of tactical operations at Cisco Systems.

“We’re not connecting systems, we’re connecting people,” Browning said. “So what we determine—on a case-by-case basis—is what a person or a organization needs to accelerate the velocity of the recovery.”

As part of its emergency crisis response service, a Cisco-IBM technical team goes onsite to advise customers on disaster recovery and continuity of operations plans. Being prepared for a crisis and developing contingency plans are crucial steps that need to be taken so an enterprise or government agency can protect data and voice communications systems during a man-made or natural disaster, said Charles Largay, global crisis management delivery executive for IBM Global Services.

A publicly traded company and a sheriff’s department in rural America have different needs when it comes to communications, Largay said. Once the individual needs are determined, the Cisco-IBM team creates a remote communication package that includes both hardware and software tailored to those needs. Each platform consists of commercial, off-the-shelf hardware and software from IBM, Cisco and other vendors. This includes open, modular, wireless, standards-based commercial platforms for continuity of operations; network operability and recovery; Internet Protocol (IP) interoperable communications; and tactical operations, command and control platforms.

One offering is a compact tactical communications kit—a suitcase-size kit designed for rapid deployment. The kit comes armed with a BGAN satellite terminal for establishing a broadband regional area network. For large-scale disasters, a team deploys to the scene via helicopter or in a four-wheel drive vehicle to set up the BGAN or a medium-scale network, and then contacts a centralized tactical operations center where IBM staffers determine what is in the supply chain and what additional resources are needed to restore communication, Largay said.

Public-safety can use the system to connect radios for interoperability as well, Browning said. The companies offer a command network emergency response vehicle, which is a six-wheel truck that delivers a large-scale network to deliver communications and information-based services. It includes a system that connects VHF and UHF radios—as well as cell phones, IP phones and PCs—to create a virtual talk group.

“Command and control then can communicate what needs to be done on the ground,” he said.

The service is currently available and priced on an individual basis, Largay said.