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With the current hurricane season intersecting with the continued global spread and impact of COVID-19, we are reminded more than ever that proactive planning for reliable and trusted communications capabilities remains critical. Well in advance of pandemics, hurricanes, other natural disasters, or even manmade events, first responders must plan for the ability to reliably connect and communicate. Satellite communications (SATCOM) capabilities allow them to do so instantly and seamlessly with services which enable these responders to transmit critical voice, data, and video in a secure environment.

In an evolving threat and technology environment, a proactive approach addresses risks from an end-to-end perspective. With respect to preparedness, it is far easier, less costly, and more effective to have the communications architecture building blocks in place well before the worst happens. For first responders and other public safety personnel, every second counts and reliable connectivity is imperative to maintain seamless communications services in the midst of unpredicted and often unanticipated scenarios. As much as we consider cell phone coverage as ubiquitous, our exclusive reliance on it is a significant vulnerability. During and following emergency events, local terrestrial infrastructure and mobile phone networks are often overloaded, damaged, or non-existent.

To ensure preparedness, I recommend responders work with their communities and elected leaders, so the following “checklist” items are both funded and executed well in advance of a disaster:

1. Select your SATCOM provider – There continues to be a critical need for reliable SATCOM services which are responsive to coverage needs and easy for first responders to operate. First responders mobilize quickly. In situations when the alert is raised for urgent disaster relief and humanitarian assistance with little or no advanced notice, they must be prepared to get in a vehicle, on a plane or a ship, and go anywhere in the world to provide aid and relief at a moment’s notice. To do so, they must have confidence they are deploying with proven SATCOM capabilities.

SATCOM is a critical element of a disaster communications architecture. It adds an essential layer of resiliency during catastrophes which provides a dependable (and often the only) communications capability for enhanced, robust connectivity. SATCOM must be incorporated as an essential part of the overall communications architecture planning. When terrestrial communications resources are unavailable or compromised, the architecture switches to SATCOM for seamless primary connectivity. If state and local first responders have this capability in place in advance, then they are sufficiently preparing themselves for the unknown. They are confident their network will be restored, regardless of the environment. They can operate with full confidence because SATCOM delivers the continuous communications capabilities to perform at this level.

2. Acquire equipment that is easy to set up and use – When they mobilize, communications systems are necessary and critical. And yet they are not the only essential items competing for precious cargo space. First responders must acquire instant voice and data services in narrowband and wideband via a broad range of dependable equipment that is as simple and easy to use, and often small and light enough to carry in a backpack. This planning allows the responder to set up literally in minutes, anywhere on the globe – a key “first in” capability available immediately upon arrival to the scene.

3. Train before deployment – To minimize downtime and optimize response results, responders should train with their SATCOM equipment and service prior to deployment. When the call comes to respond, there should be intimate familiarity with the set-up and employment of all equipment, to include mission critical SATCOM communications capabilities. This training accelerates the response results and mitigates risk of unnecessary delays in establishing command and control during the critical early hours and days of response.

Proactive planning – as opposed to reactive positioning – enables local, state and federal agencies to prepare for disasters so users can reliably transmit voice, video and data during emergency circumstances. SATCOM establishes “first-in/last-out” connectivity to support geographically-dispersed public safety usage, cost-effectively. It is imperative to have a reliable, always-on network which allows responders to focus on the other myriad of critical priorities through the provision of SATCOM capabilities with minimum installation effort prior to use. Responders depend on an end-to-end system that enables global mobility and portability. This type of system allows first responders to spend minimal time installing, troubleshooting and configuring, ensuring their focus and time is spent on the mission.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch is the senior vice president of government strategy and policy at Inmarsat Government, responsible for establishing Inmarsat’s strategic direction, policy and advocacy with respect to U.S. government. She has more than 25 years of defense, aerospace and executive leadership experience.

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