Sprint today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will use the carrier's Direct Connect service to support its nationwide mass evacuation program.

According to a press release, 2,000 Sprint Direct Connect handsets equipped with an Actsoft GPS tracking and navigation solution will be delivered to FEMA for the program.

Sprint has assisted FEMA with the evacuation program since 2008, but this year, FEMA chose to upgrade its fleet of push-to-talk (PTT) devices to Sprint Direct Connect devices.

While retaining the contract with FEMA is good for Sprint, the government agency likely had no choice but to upgrade its devices if it wished to stay with Sprint for the service.

Sprint announced in late 2010 that it would phase out its iDEN network and replace it with a CDMA-based push-to-talk Direct Connect service. Since then, Sprint has gotten more specific on the fate of the push-to-talk service, recently announcing plans to shut down its iDEN network as early as June 30, 2013, allowing it to reuse the service's spectrum for LTE.

Sprint boasts that Direct Connect covers triple the square miles of the legacy Nextel National Network.

FEMA will use Sprint Direct Connect to send and receive critical information to first responders in times of national emergencies. Sprint Direct Connect also will serve a key role in updating FEMA coordinators on events and engaging help at the nation’s most critical times.