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Satellite Phone Communications During a Natural Disaster

Aug 13, 2008
A Satellite Phone is the essential communication option for emergency responders and business continuity practitioners during a natural disaster. During hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Army National Guard was immediately called out in force. One of the National Guard commanders made an interesting and astute observation regarding Hurricane Katrina. He said that responding to this crisis was an excellent and important exercise for the Guard because dealing with Katrina was much like dealing with a classic military attack. Similar to a military attack, one of the first things that happened was that the hurricane knocked-out all land-based communication systems as it swept inland through Louisiana and Mississippi.

Hurricane Katrina cut a 100 mile wide swath through homes, businesses, trees, electrical transmission lines and telephone substations, and completely demolished cellular towers as it moved north out of the Gulf. Residents and critical response organizations were without communications for many weeks. At this critical time, no land-line telephone service or cell phone service was operational in most of the southern regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Businesses could not communicate with their management team, key employees, important vendors or customers. Family members were not able to communicate with one another or with emergency response teams.

One of the critical lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina is that we cannot rely solely on terrestrial or land-line communication systems. When radio towers and electrical transmission lines are knocked down and rendered useless, satellite phone communication systems are, in some instances, the most effective means of communicating.

Hurricane Katrina caused tremendous damage to the earth-based communications infrastructure along and within the Gulf Coast Region. Approximately three million telephone customers were without land-line phone service. It is estimated that thirty eight emergency 9-1-1 call centers were disabled and millions of calls failed in the days and weeks immediately following the hurricane. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of customers were without cable television. Through all of this, satellite telephones continued to provide effective service. All natural disaster prone areas must consider satellite phone communications as an important part of their overall solution for emergency response.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the sudden Indonesian tsunami and several other recent disasters have given both citizens and emergency response teams the ability to compare satellite phones and their advantages to land-based communication systems. Simply explained, a satellite phone is a mobile phone that utilizes commercially built space satellites to communicate instead of land-based radio towers to connect to phone lines. A phone signal is transmitted by a satellite handset to an orbiting satellite and then beamed back to earth via the satellite.

Satellite phones have a number of advantages over other types of telecommunication systems. They will work almost anywhere in the world, and since they are not dependent upon a cell tower all that is required is signal access to the satellite. More importantly, satellite phones will work during power outages. A charged battery in the phone is all that is necessary for operation. Additionally, there are several accessory power supplies available to extend the life of a satellite phone during crisis periods, including chargers that plug directly into the cigarette lighter of a vehicle, additional batteries, data kits and solar chargers.

Satellite phones are compact, have convenient carrying cases and are easy to use. Similar to other phone technologies, these phones are now becoming much smaller than previous models. Fortunately, satellite phones are also now quite affordable. Although at one time satellite phone technology was expensive, recent acceptance of these phones has increased while the cost of using satellite phones has decreased. Satellite phone vendors such as GlobaFone, Inc. of Portsmouth, NH offer a variety of plans that provide service at a reasonable cost. For less than $1,000, both a handset and a one year airtime plan can be purchased.

Satellite phone technology offers an extensive array of communication options with equipment and plans that provide voice communication, Internet access, data kits, voice mail and access to e-mail. Satellite phone communication systems must be considered an important option for any emergency response initiative or business continuity plan.
About the Author
Lou Altman is the CEO and Founder of GlobaFone, an award winning, leading provider of Satellite Phone Solutions and global wireless solutions to Government and enterprise clients for the past 10 years. Other Satellite Phone articles can be viewed at http://www.SatellitePhoneStraightTalk.com. GlobaFone is located in Portsmouth, NH and Lou can be reached on 603-433-7232.
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