Surveying the Damage: How SATCOM Gear Can Help

The storm passed, the sky cleared and sunshine once again kisses the ground

where debris lay intertwined between trees and downed power lines that once stood tall, but now they only prove to be an obstacle as you step, trip and fumble your way down the street looking for survivors.

Just a few miles away, you picture another scenario taking place. Rain from the recent slow-moving hurricane dumps water into a tranquil neighborhood, gradually flooding a home. You imagine a homeowner searching for an axe as he or she makes a move towards the attic, humming that Johnny Cash song, “How high is the water, momma? Five feet high and rising,” praying with every step the axe won’t be used.

Back at the emergency operations center (EOC), a first responder team prepares to deploy and find survivors. They map out who will tackle specific areas, evaluate the lay of the land and determine the best routes to get where they’re needed most. The storm wiped out power lines, making all terrestrial means of communication about as useless as a wet match. Instead, they rely on satellite communications (SATCOM) equipment to stay in touch.

After making a plan, they gather their gear and step out the door.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes, but few have as big an impact as hurricanes. People living hundreds of miles away from the eye of the storm can be affected. Those living in its path may have days to prepare ahead of time, but the uncertainty of how bad it will be and which areas will be hit the most makes it difficult to prepare for the aftermath.

But this is nothing new to organizations such as U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other relief agencies. All of them use SATCOM to help evaluate the damage from natural disasters so the affected communities can rebuild.

For example, FEMA uses SATCOM trucks and trailers to restore communications long before terrestrial communications equipment such as cellphone towers and telephone poles can be replaced. Both FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard use SATCOM equipment on their watercraft as they deploy search and rescue missions in flooded areas. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) even used SATCOM equipment, specifically iDirect Government-equipped P-3s, to help assist their sister Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies battle the devastation from Hurricane Florence.

These organizations also send airborne assets into the disaster areas to use their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to better assess the hurricane damage and communicate the data over SATCOM – invaluable information during large-scale floods brought on by hurricanes and tropical storms. As a result, this helps ground teams determine the best evacuation routes and where to set up mobile operation centers. Another plus? SATCOM provides real-time updates to keep teams informed, helping them adapt as conditions change.

Meanwhile on ground level, small response teams take portable satellite terminals with them as they search for survivors and survey the land. This gives them the ability to securely communicate to the EOC if anyone has been found, someone requires immediate medical attention, an update on road conditions and other vital information.

There are many uses and benefits for SATCOM systems before, during and after natural disasters, but the most important thing to remember is to have it as a part of your continuity of operations (COOP) plan. When disaster strikes, that COOP plan may just save your life and the countless lives of others.