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Nature will always be an unprecedented force to be reckoned with, despite the preparations that governments, enterprises, and non-governmental (NGO) organizations worldwide put into place. From 1998 to 2017, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, storms, droughts, heatwaves, and other extreme weather events killed 1.3 million people and cost the world economy an estimated $520 billion.

The economic and operational losses caused by these natural disasters alongside other disasters can overwhelm unprepared businesses.

In 2019, 409 natural disaster events were recorded worldwide, resulting in economic losses of $232 billion – just 3 percent below the average annual losses for this century. As extreme weather events become more frequent and more intense, disaster response teams will be even more in demand. As a result, next-generation technologies will be critical in making disaster response efforts safer and more efficient.

A satellite communications plan can make every second count

Disaster response teams need to establish short-term communications anywhere in the world to allow them to stay connected throughout every stage of the response efforts. For this, high-speed connections that enable voice, video, Internet of Things (IoT), and telemedicine solutions are crucial, and due to the speed at which the teams need to react, these communication networks need to be quick and easy-to-deploy.

For establishing disaster recovery communications, satellite remains the method of choice – particularly in areas where all other networks aren’t serviceable due to the disaster. As more low-earth orbit (LEOs) and high-throughput satellites (HTS) continue to come online, satellite communication is set to become faster and even more reliable – offering first responders a way to establish short-term, easy-to-deploy communications almost anywhere.

Handheld devices offer a reliable way for the forward team to make voice calls, access the internet, and send emails as soon as they arrive at the scene. These devices can also transfer data, download weather updates, stream video of the area, video chat with hospitals, send high-resolution images of the scene, and provide voice services to allow those affected reach loved ones.

Once the disaster response team has established an on-site base, a quick-deploy antenna system is needed to create a Wi-Fi hotspot and private network so they can better communicate at the scene. Quick-deploy systems that can be set up in under thirty minutes and provide high-speed communications shortly after are essential.

Disaster response teams should also consider satellite terminal types based on transportability and bandwidth requirements. These terminals can be stored until a disaster creates the need for satellite connectivity — when this occurs, the terminal will be ready to activate with a simple setup process. With most devices having the capability to auto-orient to the necessary satellites, activation couldn’t be more straightforward.

Real-time mapping and surveillance technology for additional support

Alongside reliable communications, in-depth knowledge of the area is vital when entering a disaster zone. Operating with as much information as possible makes disaster recovery more efficient, and investment in new mapping and surveillance technologies can help disaster response teams access a site safely and even plan for future disasters.

One of the easiest ways to get a high-level view of a local situation – without sending personnel into a potentially dangerous situation – is with drones. With drones today being equipped with HD and thermal cameras, the team can assess the extent of damage in real-time and better coordinate efforts without being put at risk. Infrared cameras and listening systems attached to drones can also help teams uncover survivors from rubble or in severe visual conditions such as at night.

The lightweight, easy-to-handle, and cost-effective nature of drones, makes them more attractive than helicopter or satellite surveillance methods. They also can establish reliable links to send collected data back to headquarters or a local team for analysis. A connectivity solution with the bandwidth to send live video streaming will give the disaster recovery team the power to assess an area quickly and make more informed decisions as to how to deal with the situation at hand.

IoT solutions for logistical nightmares

Coordinating resources at disaster response sites has long been a challenge for emergency response teams. To best serve those affected by a crisis and the relief teams sent in to help, resources need to be carefully placed, tracked, and monitored. The IoT helps ease the burden of organizing resources and provides essential data to streamline operations.

Emergency relief teams should first consider using IoT devices to monitor resources such as generators, food, and water tanks. For example, IoT devices can watch the water levels in water tanks and determine if tanks are not being utilized and need to be moved. Food and supplies can be tracked on their way to a relief site, and IoT sensors can gauge the fuel levels in generators and alert teams before they run out, keeping medical centers and other essential resources running without downtime. Data collected by IoT devices can be sent outside the chaotic disaster zone to headquarters for analysis.

In addition to tracking assets, IoT devices can also help keep track of first responders as they venture into a disaster site. Many IoT tracking technologies include features such as automated reminders, SOS alerting, man-down detection, crossed geo-fence notifications, and a complete activity log. Investing in simple IoT devices to aid in logistics will potentially save emergency response teams both time and money while keeping them safe.

Putting the theory into practice to save lives

However, it is not just natural disasters that require assistance from disaster response teams and next-generation communications technologies. When people get into trouble in remote or challenging locations, time is of the essence. Emergency services on land and at sea understand how quickly situations can change and how even those with significant levels of competence and experience can get caught out. Search and rescue missions can easily be suspended due to heavy rain or fog or merely poor visibility at night, reducing the odds of people being found alive

Increasingly, government agencies involved in search and rescue operations have been realizing the benefits of remote connectivity driven by satellite technology to speed up their activities. Fire, emergency, and mountain rescue teams are also able to utilize these technologies for support to locate and rescue people who have become lost in National Parks and harsh environments across the globe.

Luckily, by adopting robust and reliable high-bandwidth communications networks alongside advanced mapping and surveillance technologies, those involved in search and rescue missions have a lot more support and knowledge available than ever before. The increased bandwidth can make a significant difference to both those at the scene and those working from central locations to help with the rescue missions, enabling mission-critical communications between many teams to recover those that are lost.

As technology advances and satellite communication becomes faster and even more reliable, rescue missions and disaster recovery operations will become more streamlined and tactical than ever before. After all, teams that are better prepared, better equipped, and that can work well together in challenging circumstances have a better chance of saving lives than those that are not.


James Trevelyan

James Trevelyan is the senior vice president global sales-enteprise at Speedcast.

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