The English language is full of clich�s. One of these is, "it's an ill wind that doesn't blow somebody some good." Apparently conceived in the days of sailing ships, this truism simply means that one person's misfortune is another person's opportunity.
But the growing global demand for reliable communications, especially by agencies and governments charged with managing both natural and man-made disasters is no clich�. The ever-increasing level of worldwide misfortune is pushing more crisis managers to satellites, both for backup and regular communications business opportunities.
Satellite products and services are attractive for a number of reasons in crisis management situations. First, as learned from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, terrestrial communications are remarkably vulnerable to terrorist attack. In contrast, geosynchronous satellites 22,300 miles above the Earth's surface are, to all intents, immune to the furies of man and terrestrial nature combined. Second, the reliability of satellites combined with advances in mobile uplink technology means that satellite connectivity could be carried in trucks and cars, briefcases and even satellite telephone handsets. Finally, advances in digital transmissions combined with the growing popularity of Internet Protocol (IP) data streams have combined to reduce user costs; both when it comes to acquiring earth station equipment and renting space segment.
This combination of reliability, portability and affordability is making satellite communications the system of choice for crisis managers in many different situations ranging from natural and man-made disasters to public safety and business communications.
When Nature Strikes, Satellites Respond
Despite the public's current focus on man-made crises, the truth is that Mother Nature generates most day-to-day threats to humanity. Tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and blizzards all shatter terrestrial telecom networks, leaving first responders, rescuers and the public scrambling for some form of communications.
Time and again, satellites have filled the gap. For instance, on January 26, 2001, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale devastated the industrial Indian state of Gujarat, killing more than 30,000 people and causing billions of dollars in damage. Among the casualties was the region's terrestrial telecom network, with satellite mobile units offering the only way for stricken residents to contact the outside world. "We have a large FlexiDAMA/SkyIP network in India," says Richard McPhaden, vice president of marketing for the Canadian Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) equipment manufacturer, Polarsat. "After the earthquake struck, our equipment was virtually the only communications link out of this worst-hit area. Fortunately, it was mounted in a van, which survived the quake. We allowed local residents to make free two-minute phone calls so they could let their families know they survived."
When Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, it also swept away most of the state's telephone service, which created a cellular network that was either inoperable or overloaded, and blew down radio towers, eliminating the use of radio communications. The only remaining network infrastructure existed through satellite technology. Since then, the Florida Division of Emergency Management has added a satellite communications system throughout the state that works so well, the department now uses it on virtually a daily basis, regardless of weather conditions.
In January 2003, wildfires burned throughout much of Australia, including the western half of the Australian city of Canberra. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed and four Canberra residents lost their lives.
Not surprisingly, fire, police and medical communication networks were either badly damaged by the flames, or nonexistent in the fires' more remote areas. This is why the Australian telecom Optus relied on Shiron Satellite's SatFly trailer-mounted earth stations to provide communications in and out of the fire zones. "The SatFly is designed for rapid deployment," says Shaul Laufer, Shiron's president and chief technology officer. "The trailer unit contains everything you need to establish high-speed satellite communications fast, including a fold-down satellite antenna, a generator, a Shiron InterSKY remote gateway satellite router, Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony equipment, a high- speed Wi-Fi gateway to allow access to Wi-Fi equipped remote users and as an option, two-way video- conferencing equipment. You just attach this trailer to a car or truck, drive up and deploy within minutes."