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In addition to providing funding in times of crisis, Cisco can benefit people in need by offering what only we can: our products and technological expertise. Our disaster response team, Tactical Operations (TacOps), deploys trained team members to restore communications—for free—in the wake of disasters and other events where first responders need support. We prioritize support for:

  • Public safety and health
  • Government continuity
  • Critical infrastructure
  • Emergency management
  • Organizations facilitating disaster response or humanitarian relief operations

TacOps is a full-time team of 12, supported by over 200 trained employee volunteers – the Disaster Incident Response Team (DIRT). Volunteers are given time away from their normal Cisco jobs to join TacOps deployments. The team responds quickly and puts their expertise to work as soon as they hit the ground. This allows them to get communications up and running within a matter of days and transition management over to government and local providers when their systems are back up. Even in a crisis, security is still critical. Advanced technologies such as Cisco Umbrella, Next Generation Firewall, and Meraki keep these temporary networks safe from cyberthreats. Customers affected by disasters may also request support from TacOps, which works with Cisco account teams to design solutions that meet customers’ needs.

Matt Runyan has been an engineering lead and network consulting engineer for TacOps for almost ten years. He was a volunteer before the official volunteer program began in 2006, and he became a full-time team member after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Before TacOps, he worked at Cisco doing IT infrastructure and worked part-time as an EMT and volunteer firefighter. “I was born to do this job, to help people and play with technology,” Matt shared.

Matt (center, holding the clipboard) in Raleigh, NC during Hurricane Dorian, 2019

How this response is different

The 2020 pandemic response is different from all the natural disasters that the TacOps team has experienced. According to Matt, it starts with the scale and the scope: this unprecedented event is not in one localized area, but all over the world. Usually, there is an earthquake in one region, or a typhoon in another, and the TacOps team can deploy to the affected area to help with connections after the disaster strikes. “What we are doing differently is that we are not sending people to affected areas because it is too much of a risk, so we are offering remote support,” said Matt.

The entire team is working from home, though they may go to the office to grab gear to hand off to the agency they are helping. According to Matt, the advantage of the Cisco Meraki cloud-managed solutions equipment is that it is all managed remotely. “This is going to be the game-changer for the whole world in a lot of different respects,” he said. “Cisco has the technology that makes it possible for us to continue our work.”

The number of requests and inquiries for TacOps support is growing every day. They are tracking all of the requests and redirecting people, or the team takes care of issues themselves if they can. This is an unprecedented event, and like many people, the TacOps team is figuring things out in real time. “That is where our people excel, thinking on their feet, and thinking of solutions during a crisis,” Matt shared.

TacOps is getting calls for the typical escalated sales path where a customer needs more access to connectivity. They are also still doing some equipment-only deployments. For example, there are agencies that TacOps is supporting with Cisco gear and our systems around temporary voice and data communications. There have also been complications with customers who were hacked by a ransomware attack. They were able to get connected to networks but still didn’t have phones, so the TacOps team set up some phones with a hotline number where people can call in with questions.

In another example of the breadth of their work, TacOps helped a food bank stay connected. The food bank moved into a new facility, and they needed the capacity to be connected right away while they waited for their regular service providers. “The best analogy for our team is that we are the paramedics for communication, and we keep you connected until the incident subsides,” Matt explained.

Sometimes it is a matter of using our network to help meet needs. TacOps is a member of FEMA National Business Emergency Operations Center (NBEOC) and other business emergency operations in several states. Many different things are needed during an emergency, from ice to plywood and technology. TacOps can help connect the dots – even if we cannot supply something, we can refer an agency to where they can get what they need.

Another part of Matt’s job is consulting, which sometimes involves helping coordinate resources with agencies, and advising on security or networking issues. Matt has some advice to make sure they have the connectivity they need: “Definitely build in some resiliency. Have diverse service providers and cellular as a backup to a landline for internet connectivity.”

Please connect with TacOps directly if you are interested in learning more about what they do.