Five times a year, AT&T (NYSE: T) rolls out decontamination suits and other gear, practicing how to react if disaster – from chemical spills to hurricanes -strike.

All that practice paid a dividend to the communications giant on Monday.

Company officials announced in Raleigh that AT&T is the first company to earn certification under a Department of Homeland Security program called DHS Voluntary Private Sector Preparedness, or PS-Prep.

DHS works with companies to organize and enhance company assets to deal with disasters and other threats.

“AT&T has a long-standing commitment to being prepared to deliver the products and services our customers depend upon every day and particularly when disaster strikes,” said Cynthia Marshall, president of AT&T North Carolina, at a press conference. “We are proud to be the first company in the nation to attain Homeland Security certification, but this doesn’t happen by accident. We continually invest in our networks – including more than $1.8 billion over the past four years here in North Carolina alone – and exercise our continuity program to ensure our business and network operations remain state-of-the-art.”

Clifton Metcalf of AT&T Corporate Communications said the company’s planning processes enabled it to meet the DHS requirements, noting that AT&T’s capabilities were measured against a standard known as BS25999-2.

“BS25999-2 was created by the British Standards Institute and requires implementation, maintenance, and improvement of a business continuity management system (BCMS),” Metcalf told WRAL Tech Wire.

“AT&T’s current business continuity management system was created based on more than 20 years’ experience in managing continuity and disaster recovery for our own business and for customers. As such, the practices we followed prior to certification were largely in line with the BS25999-2 standard.”

Metcalf noted as well that AT&T practices five times each year in which “we stage to practice setting and operating the equipment as though it were an actual emergency.”

One exercise took place in Atlanta last year (see photo). Another took place in Charlotte two years ago, Metcalf added.

AT&T maintains its Global Network Operations Center in New Jersey and has its own fleet of 320 self-contained equipment trailers and support vehicles that can be deployed in emergencies. The trailers contain data routing and voice switching gear like equipment found in its standard operations centers.

The vehicles are in reserve at various locations around the country.

“This enables us to get the team, and equipment, in-place anywhere in the country in a relatively short period of time,” Metcalf said.