Satellite communications in disaster recovery operations

Satellite communications are an important part of any disaster recovery operation. They have many advantages over traditional communications. They are independent of terrestrial communications systems, so they can be used in remote or devastated areas that have no ground-based infrastructure to support more traditional systems like wired and wireless communications. They are easily transported and deployed. And they practically work anywhere there is a patch of sky.

Three important applications of satellite communications are very useful in disaster recovery efforts. They are satellite phones, mobile data terminals, and fixed satellite services.


Satellite phones, as their name suggests, are portable phones that use satellite communications instead of the traditional wireless services like radio or cellular phone. Sat phones’ small size and portability make them the communication tool of choice during the first few hours after a disaster. They can be used by on-scene responders to call for and send resources, to report on the situation, and to coordinate efforts.


Mobile satellite services (MSS) terminals are much bigger than handsets, but are still small enough to be carried by a single person or to be mounted on or inside a small vehicle. They are also more capable, as they offer email, Internet access, and other communication services available on laptop computers or personal digital assistants. When you need a picture more than a thousand words, MSS terminals are the way to go.


Finally, fixed satellite services (FSS) -which include very small aperture terminals (VSAT)- are used for high-capacity applications. These need to deploy a satellite dish antenna up to four feet across. Nowhere as mobile as the two smaller systems, they are still fairly easy to set up. And they also provide a much greater capacity and range of services. FSS and VSATs broadband connections make television, video conferencing, and other bandwith-intensive activities possible.


Even FSS and VSAT systems can be made very mobile. It is easy to modify a vehicle as small as a jeep or van to serve as a mobile C3 (command and control, communications) centers that can operate while on the move. Police officers, firemen, medical personnel, and news teams are known to have modified vehicles to serve as mobile command posts.


An important note to consider is that satellite communication services often come in two different classes of service: Preemptable and…

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