Satellites Are Critical to Disaster Readiness, Industry Experts Say
Herndon, VA (June 1, 2010) Emergency response in earthquake-ravaged Haiti would be nearly impossible without satellite telecommunications – and industry experts are advising relief agencies and governments to learn from this experience when planning for the upcoming hurricane season. For disaster readiness, this includes developing and testing a satellite infrastructure immediately, to ensure vital ongoing contact with affected areas when ground-based communication is lost.
Hurricane season typically begins in the late spring or early summer, making advance planning essential in the winter. As in Haiti, when this type of disaster hits, terrestrial or undersea lines may become damaged, leaving satellite communications as the only real link to the outside world. “Satellites support both government and private relief efforts, as well as medical, security and logistical operations,” said Patricia Cooper, president of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA).
“Satellite services can also quickly restore terrestrial cellular connectivity and international links, and basic civil services,” Cooper added.
“When all else fails, satellites come to the rescue,” agreed Claude Rousseau, senior analyst, satellite communications for NSR.
The satellite industry is providing Haitian relief workers with satellite phones, portable receivers and very small aperture antenna systems. Rousseau noted that the industry responded similarly in past disaster emergencies, supporting government, military and non-government organizations after the Asian tsunami of 2006, the earthquake in China last year, the hurricanes in Haiti and the Gonaives in September 2008, and more recently in the Philippines following the Ketsana and Parma typhoons.
Segovia, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Inmarsat, plc and a provider of satellite communications products and services, has delivered Iridium satellite phones to Haiti to speed relief efforts there. In the past, Segovia supported Hurricane Katrina relief efforts by leasing satellite capacity and providing a specially designed mobile satellite communications trailer to the Mississippi Emergency Management office.
“Disaster relief workers can use satellite technology’s portable infrastructure to re-establish communications when natural disasters destroy or disable permanent communications infrastructure,” explained Segovia CEO Mike Wheeler.
“That’s particularly important for government organizations, to ensure continuity of operations in case their primary communications paths no longer function,” Wheeler noted. Additionally, he said, Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT), Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) appliances, and Iridium phones allow users to purchase or lease affordable equipment that can be activated during emergencies with on-demand or annual space segment leases, depending on the nature of the emergency, he added.
As governments begin to understand the critical role satellites play in returning disrupted lives to a semblance of normality, emergency planners are becoming more aware of the need to develop and maintain a satellite communications infrastructure. “In the past five years, first responder and government entities have learned to pre-position satellite capability, train on the technology and integrate satellite capabilities into their planning,” said SIA’s Cooper.
Governments or NGOs planning to set up a satellite infrastructure for emergency response should work well ahead, said NSR’s Rousseau. “Pre-purchase as much as possible the most important pieces to carry for the mission. Prepare it ahead of time, practice setting it up and using it to avoid breakdown or failures.” Common avoidable mistakes include insufficient power to operate the equipment or no power source to recharge satellite phone batteries, he noted.
At Segovia, Wheeler stressed that government and NGOs must invest in a satellite continuity of operations (COOP) solution for their most critical functions. “Organizations should assess the impact of communications loss or interruption against the cost of a COOP solution. It’s not just a financial consideration,” he said.
“If an organization chooses against budgeting for continuity of operations on a strictly financial basis, it will have to be ready to face the consequences of foregoing that decision when disaster strikes,” Wheeler added.