Fast moving events need real-time information

The Middle East is no stranger to natural disasters, even if the types of emergency change over time. For example, writes James Trevelyan, SVP Global Sales, Speedcast, increasing climate variability and a fast-growing population crowded into a tiny portion of the region’s surface area, have seen more danger from flooding than earthquakes in recent years. 

Emergency services around the world understand how important good communication is to enable them to work at peak efficiency. But what happens when crews have to operate in remote locations outside of the region’s major population centres? Or in the aftermath of a natural disaster when normal communications infrastructure systems may have become damaged or inoperable? Teams responding to fast-moving events should have plans in place that let them establish short-term communications anywhere in the world that will keep them connected during every stage of an unfolding situation. 

Staying connected

For those first on the scene in an emergency, communications are critical. 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 be used to transfer data back to a command centre. Sending hi-res images or streaming live video to colleagues so they can make real-time decisions about evolving situation, and so those yet to arrive can be aware of what awaits them, can be vital. They can also be used to download critical information such as maps and weather reports and provide a way for anyone affected by a disaster to reach loved ones. 

Once the 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. With time of the essence, quick-deploy systems that can be set up in under thirty minutes and provide high-speed communications shortly after are essential. 

But in many hard to reach locations establishing good communications over the usual networks can be difficult. Satellite can, therefore, become an excellent option for emergency services and disaster recovery teams. 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.

Emergency services teams should consider adding satellite terminals to the list of vital equipment they take with them when responding to an emergency and should ensure they can handle the transportability and bandwidth required. 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 and with most devices having the capability to auto-orient to the necessary satellites, activation couldn’t be simpler. 

Supporting search & rescue

No matter how well prepared they are, people can quickly get into trouble while taking part in activities in remote or difficult to access locations. Emergency services on land and at sea know how quickly conditions can change and cause difficulties for even the most competent and experienced adventurers. They also know that in search and rescue situations, response times can be the difference between a good outcome and a disaster. 

A wide range of organisations and agencies involved in search and rescue operations have realised the benefits of remote connectivity driven by satellite technology to speed up their activities. 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. 

Being well prepared and carrying the right equipment reduces the time taken to make critical decisions and gives response teams a better chance of saving lives. While no one can predict how a situation will present itself on the ground, the support and technology to make these operations easier and more efficient will prove beneficial, no matter what happens in the future. 

For search and rescue operations, having access to a robust and reliable high-bandwidth communications network can give access to advanced mapping and surveillance technologies, which can prove invaluable in unfamiliar or changing environments. 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 several teams to recover those that are lost.

Fire & Emergency and Mountain Rescue teams can utilise these technologies for support to locate and rescue people who have become lost in national parks and harsh environments across the globe. Search and rescue missions can easily be suspended due to heavy rain or fog or simply poor visibility at night, reducing the odds of people being found alive. 

New technologies for additional support

During a search for missing persons, reliable communications, in-depth knowledge of the area and full situational awareness is crucial when emergency services are called to a disaster zone or have to respond to a major incident. 

Operating with as much information as possible makes disaster recovery more efficient and investment in new, real-time mapping and surveillance technologies can help response teams access a site safely and even plan for future disasters. 

In May 2020, a fire and rescue organisation in New Zealand made use of support from technology and support provided by Speedcast to locate and rescue two ‘trampers’ lost deep in the Kahurangi National Park. The pair entered the bush on 9th May but became lost early on in their tramp due to heavy fog, spending nearly two weeks hunkered down in rugged terrain, desperate for water, and running out of food. 

The remote location also caused poor cellular coverage, adding further challenges to the search. Speedcast had recently equipped the Fire & Rescue Service with 18 Forward Command Vehicles and nine fixed sites with new land mobile auto-acquire satellite communications systems. These provided an increase in bandwidth to the rescuers which was deployed for email, mapping and management of the search and, noted by the teams and police staff working from the location, made a significant improvement

In such situations, the safety of the rescue teams themselves is paramount. Many organisations have turned to aerial or ground-based autonomous vehicles or drones to give a high-level or on-the-ground view of a situation before or instead of sending personnel into a potentially dangerous situation. With drones today being equipped with high definition 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 difficult 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. With the right connectivity, they can also send back vital information or even a live video feed to headquarters or a local team for analysis and direct decision making. 

Remote and autonomous solutions 

Coordinating resources at disaster response sites, especially when moving into a recovery phase, has long been a resource-intensive challenge for emergency response teams. Using technology that can enable devices to operate autonomously helps to remove some of that burden and free up resources that are needed elsewhere. 

Connected devices can also help the crisis and relief teams track and monitor vital resources such as generators, food, and water tanks. Sensors can keep track of levels in water tanks and determine if tanks are not being utilised and need to be moved. Food and supplies can be tracked on their way to a relief site, and independent sensors can gauge the fuel levels in generators and alert teams before they run out – keeping medical centres and other essential resources running without downtime. Data collected by these devices can be sent outside the chaotic disaster zone to headquarters for analysis.

Investing in simple autonomous devices to aid in logistics will save emergency response teams both time and money while keeping them safe. Connected devices fitted with tracking technology attached to first responders allow for constant monitoring and communication even from afar. Many tracking technologies also include features such as automated reminders, SOS alerting, man-down detection, crossed geo-fence notifications, and maintain a complete activity log. 

Nature will always be a force to be reckoned with, but by harnessing the power of technology, emergency services can respond more quickly and keep their staff safer when responding to disaster or major incident situations. 

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