Our current – and likely future reality – both in the US and around the world is that large-scale disasters will be a frequent occurrence. The destruction wrought by these natural disasters is keenly felt, and relieving human suffering and remediating the damage is a mission to which all governments are committed. However, combating the devastating effects of a natural disaster is a difficult task, made all the more challenging by the fact that critical communications infrastructure in the crisis zone is typically destroyed.
“Responders have to contend with a two-fold problem,” said Scott Walters, Sales Director at Intelsat General. “First, access and visibility can be greatly limited by weather, flames, smoke, debris, ash, or damaged terrain. On top of that, the communications and power infrastructure is often limited or gone altogether.”
Greater voice and data communications capabilities can help responders identify high-risk areas, evacuate residents, and protect property, while also keeping emergency personnel as safe as possible. But the tools that give greater insight, awareness, and connectivity demand high-throughput data links, along with a level of reliability that truly can make a life-or-death difference.
Satellite networks can give responders, from decision-makers to teams on the ground, a decisive edge.
“Satellites can support both sides of the equation – the big-picture overview and the ground communications – that ensure response teams can approach each event in the safest, most appropriate way,” Walters explained. But, he added, the fact that every natural disaster can differ wildly makes preparation and planning for this capability difficult.
“Even during hurricane seasons, for example, we won’t know the size, speed, and overall impact of each individual storm until it actually happens, and often, storms are either harsher or less destructive than predicted,” Walters explained. “Having the right level of resources available then becomes a real problem for federal and state emergency managers. There’s a huge cost involved in guessing wrong about what you’ll need and for how long.”
Complicating the matter, the satellite industry has traditionally offered a number of proprietary solutions, which limits the ability for equipment to interoperate across agencies. These closed systems also limit the ability to blend in newer technologies from across the industry. An open architecture approach removes those barriers to innovation, Walter explained.
Recognizing that government agencies have already made an investment in satellite communications, Intelsat General’s FlexGround is a managed service that addresses both of those issues, Walters said. “FlexGround’s flexible antenna options allows us to create a satellite-based communications solution that can incorporate new technologies and antennas, as needed. And as a managed service, it provides a predictable cost structure that ensures the right level of connectivity is available when and where it’s needed.”
Real-time images and sensor readings from government satellites, such as those operated by NOAA and NASA can show everything about the scope of the impacted area, from wind speed to rainfall, to simply knowing what roads are still there, if any. This data is critical to rescue and response crews, Walters said. Combined with the tactical advantages of reliable, high-throughput ground communications for voice and data, it can “give leaders in the field and at command centers better information for better decision making in the moment.”
All told, Walters said, advances in technology mean responders can react more quickly and effectively than ever. But that capability is ever more dependent on high-throughput, high reliability bandwidth—data and voice connectivity that satellite networks can provide in emergency situations of every description, he explained. “It’s a cost-effective capability that can help save lives, limit damage to property and terrain, and lessen the economic impact of a natural disaster.”
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