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A Guide to Satcom for First Responders

23 Dec 2021
A Guide to Satcom for First Responders
A Guide to Satcom for First Responders

Each humanitarian mission presents a new set of challenges and obstacles for first responders, but one thing remains the same: the necessity of reliable satellite communications for an emergency response.

From initial informational reporting between field workers and headquarters to long-term development and capability-building efforts, satellite communications benefit humanitarian groups as well as governmental authorities and residents.

Whether your team is responding to a crisis in the crucial first 72 hours or in the final phase of post-emergency mitigation, they can rely on an effective emergency response satellite communication system from IEC Telecom to fulfill their mission.

With an array of products and solutions designed for on-the-move, on-the-pause and fixed use during humanitarian response missions, IEC Telecom can tailor a program to fit your organisation’s needs and budget.

Read on to find out how satellite communications can address connectivity in a disaster zone and optimise recovery efforts.

The Types of Disasters That Humanitarian Missions Address

Humanitarian missions help to address a variety of emergency scenarios, including man-made crises and natural disasters.

Man-made disasters include transportation accidents, hazardous material or chemical spills, nuclear blasts and other explosions, terrorist attacks, armed conflict and human displacement (refugee) crises.

Natural disasters include extreme storms such as tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and drought.

Natural disasters can occur in tandem with man-made disasters or, in some cases, create a man-made disaster. An example of this would be a flood that leaves inhabitants homeless and spurs displacement or a severe drought that necessitates migration, thereby creating a refugee crisis.

How Communications Can Be Disrupted

During man-made disasters such as armed conflict and refugee crises, governmental or para-governmental actors often restrict access to existing terrestrial communications.

Natural disasters like typhoons, fires, floods and earthquakes may disable terrestrial communications entirely.

If there is any terrestrial communication infrastructure left intact, residents are apt to burden or overload capacity while trying to get help, access information, or contact relatives. This severely limits first responders’ access to existing functional communications channels.

Additionally, some disasters occur in remote areas that have never obtained communications infrastructure. This hinders the humanitarian response and can have lasting consequences measured in human lives.

Global satcom systems for emergency first responders can benefit aid efforts in all of these scenarios.

Satcom Is Crucial During Immediate Disaster Response

Emergency response teams need immediate and reliable high-speed broadband access to voice, video and data to create situational awareness and plan the proper course of action. Better communication means targeted logistics, so critical supplies like food, water and medicine are deployed to the disaster zone with more precision.

Portable satellite communications provide the most effective way to establish connectivity in affected areas, no matter how inaccessible or devastated these areas may be.

Simple, easy-to-deploy mobile solutions for disaster response teams allow the means for instant communication. Equipment should be lightweight and compact, so operational units have greater mobility and shorter reaction times. Remote activation and management free up first responders to focus on the urgent aid activities at hand.

During rapid deployment, push-to-talk solutions create pre-defined communications groups so that all of the appropriate response teams are connected and ready to act as soon as a call is placed.

Other rapid-response options include satellite phone SIM cards for operational units, which IEC Telecom can activate within two hours. This option includes handsets, modems and hardware for agency teams too.

Bigger Isn’t Better During the Initial Response

In an emergency, the last thing aid workers need to worry about is porting around a cumbersome satellite terminal. Getting to a remote disaster site is difficult enough, which is why using lightweight and compact equipment is necessary.

Devices like BGAN terminals and handheld satellite phones, which can connect emergency responders anywhere on Earth, regardless of existing infrastructure, are critical during the initial phase of any humanitarian intervention.

Compact VSAT Terminals

Portable, lightweight satellite terminals make ideal foundations for emergency comms systems. These products do not require specialised technicians for set-up and are small enough to transport anywhere.

Products like the Thuraya IP+ allow operational units to access corporate networks over L-band, connecting them with home teams and facilitating everything from telemedicine to email with a small physical footprint and effortless set-up.

On-the-Move Vehicular Terminals

While many terminals are meant for on-the-pause use, some satellite terminals are designed specifically for on-the-move use in cars, vans and other forms of wheeled transport. These vehicular products can withstand shock and high-vibration environments that other terminals cannot.

On-the-move vehicular terminals like the Thuraya IP Voyager offer reliable L-band coverage in even the most remote areas, achieving a high-quality broadband connection in minutes. This terminal can also be used on-the-pause when teams set up camp in a disaster zone or as a back-up for terrestrial communications during later recovery and reconstruction efforts.

Push-to-Talk Devices

The smallest and most portable of all devices are push-to-talk handheld mobile devices, such as the Iridium Extreme® PTT device. They are approximately the same size as a regular mobile phone.

Distributed amongst your team’s first responders during humanitarian aid interventions, these satellite phones enable secure low-latency group communications in mere moments. Setting predefined communications groups on these devices ensures all the pertinent teams are connected with one touch, saving time when every second counts.

Depending on the device your team chooses, it may use Ka-Band, L-Band, or hybrid Ka-Band/L-band coverage, such as FleetXpress™ from Inmarsat, to connect with the satellite.

Rapid Deployment Kit (RDK)

A Rapid Deployment Kit (RDK) delivers connectivity to first responders in a single hand-held case. It is meant to be deployed immediately, providing instant coverage and complete end-to-end support for humanitarian efforts. RDK supports everything from video conferencing to remote maintenance and telemedicine in the most challenging areas with advanced UTM security.

A portable network management solution that’s lightweight, durable and future-ready, the RDK is compliant with all commercial airline regulations thanks to removable batteries and a small hard-shell suitcase that can fit in an overhead bin and resist harsh travel conditions.

When teams need to be hands-free, the RDK provides easy operation with a secure voice-controlled device. First responders can also use the smart headsets included in the RDK for remote maintenance in areas with limited or no GSM coverage.

The RDK will support videoconferencing in an ultra-low bandwidth environment down to 40Kbps and encrypt transmissions using 256bit AES. It will seamlessly switch to 4G in areas with GSM coverage to provide your organisation with the lowest possible routing costs.

Monitor network status and control your operational team’s consumption through the RDK digital dashboard, which is accessible from your organisation’s headquarters.

As a future-ready solution, the RDK is upgrade-enabled and virtual machines may be installed remotely without any onsite maintenance, delivering further savings on costs and logistics involved in sending a technician to the field. The bandwidth can be optimised up to 2Mbps, offering a comprehensive connectivity solution no matter how remote the location.

Satcom for the Next Phases of Humanitarian Missions

Humanitarian interventions require different levels of communication services for the subsequent stages of the relief and development process Satellite-based disaster communications systems are valuable tools that assist teams far beyond the first 72 hours of a crisis.

Once the initial emergency response is completed and the focus has shifted towards long-term capability-building goals like finance, governmental empowerment, education and health, a satellite-based communications solution will help communities meet their development needs.

Satcom is also vital for monitoring local staff safety and welfare, providing supplemental connectivity to remote communities during development or restoration, enhancing business capabilities and providing internet, voice and messaging access to residents while infrastructure is built up or rebuilt.

For Temporary Office Use

When an aid organisation is ready to consolidate relief efforts and set up a temporary office in the field, a fixed or semi-fixed modem can manage logistics, connect to optimised corporate applications, transfer data, and facilitate videoconferencing in low-bandwidth situations.

ONETeam is part of the OptiConnect suite by IEC Telecom, which has been especially designed to offer remote teams the capability to simultaneously communicate with real-time voice, text, video, and data transfers. Powered by DigiGone, ONETeam offers optimised videoconferencing, advanced visibility, efficient file exchange, and bandwidth control so that aid organisations can fully benefit from high-quality communications, make critical decisions, and offer their teams reliable channels to stay in touch with their friends and families.

For Medical Use

Satcom can be used to devise mobile telemedicine hubs, connecting aid workers via satellite to pertinent medical records and offering real-time health consultations in underserved or unserved areas. Satcom also helps clinics access online administration systems for appointment scheduling, procurement, logistics and accounting. Additionally, satcom for e-health provides local doctors opportunities to connect and consult with other health professionals worldwide.

ONEHealth, powered by DigiGone, is the definitive telemedicine care system offered as a part of the OptiConnect suite of applications by IEC Telecom. It has been especially designed to support multiple services that include emergent care and delivers multi-party video calling as well as a user-friendly dashboard for efficient collaboration between medical specialists in different locations.

For Educational Use

When disasters disrupt education, it can create a learning gap that may take generations to bridge. Satcom makes a useful tool for e-learning, both for children and adults during post-disaster recovery.

In the developing world, satcom-facilitated e-learning provides access to educators in other parts of the globe and digital learning materials for educators on-site. In refugee camps, satcom-enabled e-learning can help displaced people, young and old alike, adapt to their new situation or environment.

For Frontline Staff Safety

Ensuring the personal safety of aid workers in hazardous locations is of utmost importance, both in terms of humanitarian grounds as well as to keep the mission on-point. The aim is to mitigate disaster and not add onto the crisis at hand.

With IEC Telecom’s advanced tracking solutions, you can easily keep track of your frontline staff’s positions live onscreen from your post or headquarters. For high-risk situations, IEC Telecom can provide your organisation with sensor-based equipment for each team member, which will report and quantify their physiological data for your agency in real-time.

Welfare Solutions for First Responders

Emergency responder communications need not be limited to the mission. With IEC Telecom’s welfare solutions, your organisation can put the health, safety and well-being of its frontline staff first.

IEC Telecom has developed an integrated platform to manage and optimise first responders’ communication called IEC Welfare.

This solution combines a controlled welfare link and a secure corporate link, powered by YahClick and enhanced by IEC Telecom, that allows remote teams to access the internet at a higher bandwidth and a lower operational cost.

IEC Welfare allows frontline staff to make phone calls, send messages, use social media, and access the internet without affecting the bottom line.

This option provides aid workers with easy internet access via prepaid vouchers and scratch cards or a flexible data bundle, which is managed by headquarters to control access and decrease operational costs.

IEC Welfare also allows multiple members of a frontline team to share the same Wi-Fi connection, using voice and data services to communicate with family, follow the news, or complete routine online tasks (like making payments or their financial statements) while stationed in the field.

As always, both headquarters and frontline teams can get 24/7 assistance from IEC Telecom’s experienced customer support team.

IEC Solutions for Long-Term Missions

The type of service, throughput and traffic type exchanged with various on-the-pause, on-the-move and fixed terminals will vary as mission goals change.

Aid agencies benefit most from future-ready, scalable satellite communications platforms when their missions include recovery, reconstruction, development and capacity-building welfare initiatives.

Some of the notable solutions from IEC Telecom’s extensive portfolio include:

OneGate for On-Site Camp Administration

OneGate is an IEC Telecom communication solution that’s ideal for the administration of a humanitarian camp. Lightweight, nimble and simple to install, OneGate is a future-ready network management solution designed to operate in dual GSM/satcom mode.

It offers high broadband connectivity for humanitarian camps so that they can access and share a high volume of data, videoconference, and get secure VPN connections in dual GSM/satcom modes while the home organisation monitors usage on the OneGate digital dashboard.

Headquarters can customise the dashboard for full visibility over WAN links, monitor or filter traffic, and issue vouchers to the operational team. These oversight features ensure that dedicated links and bandwidth are preserved for priority communications. User controls also allow changes to access levels, upgrades and additional applications as needs develop.

The OneGate system comes with a built-in Wi-Fi controller, integrated LTE failover, and an enhanced cybersecurity toolkit. Because it optimises the default bandwidth while automatically routing data over the least-cost network available (GSM or satcom), many aid and development organisations find that OneGate provides an excellent user experience for a reasonable fee.

Voyager Edge V: A Packaged On-The-Move & On-The-Pause Solution

Voyager Edge V is the next generation of dual mode GSM/satcom solutions for connected cars and other forms of vehicular transport.

This hybrid GSM/satcom solution empowers public services and social programs in areas with limited or no GSM coverage with a VSAT-like user experience and uninterrupted connectivity, even on the move.

As a full-service solution, Voyager Edge V helps ensure the continuity of government, humanitarian and business operations in remote areas not reached by terrestrial networks with the combination of the Thuraya IP Voyager, a high-quality and affordable vehicular satellite terminal, and the OneGate Compact, a transportable network management solution that hosts email service, videoconferencing, remote surveillance, and more.

Voyager Edge V can be applied in a wide range of mission-critical on-the-move operations. Colleagues, on the ground and at headquarters, can communicate using video, VoIP and data when GSM is available or in satcom mode with the lowest cost to your organisation.

Headsets for remote maintenance and hands-free operation, TCP acceleration and compression up to 2 Mbps, a digital dashboard to manage consumption and apply filtration, a user-controlled voucher system, and advanced UTM security round out this package’s capabilities.

IEC Telecom Offers 24/7/-365 Remote Management & Support

Reliable back-up and expert technical support are critical to humanitarian missions working in remote locations across the world.

IEC Telecom’s experts will handle the entirety of your service experience, from sales to installation to maintenance, so that your agency’s connectivity requirements are met with no disruption to the mission.

Additionally, IEC Support is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, both online and via telephone, so that humanitarian organisations operating in remote locations can concentrate on providing essential services without technical difficulties.

IEC Telecom Is the Right Choice for Humanitarian Response Teams

IEC Telecom solutions have consistently been proven to be reliable for communications during disasters and emergency response worldwide, no matter how remote or dangerous the location.

As an established provider of satcom for first responders and long-term development missions, IEC Telecom facilitates over 6,000 satellite service subscriptions and helps more than 350 humanitarian-sector customers throughout Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Europe.

Enquire now about your tailored satellite communications solution.