Satellite technology as reliable backup?

Satellite in spaceIn reading Andy Opsahi’s article Satellite Technology Provides Disaster Communications When Cell Towers Fail at, I was at first heartened with the statement:

Emergency managers know that having foolproof disaster communications plan is nothing more than fantasy.  That’s because even the most redundant backup strategies can leave responders unable to communicate.

Unfortunately, Andy missed two major drawbacks to satellite communications in the article that appears bias toward the positives of using satellite.  It isn’t surprising as they are frequently overlooked.  A clear view of the sky, and the spot beam capacity.  Although he was dead on when he said it was expensive.

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Recharging with Solar Power

Solar power panels in the sunSolar power has potential but have yet to see it realized. It is really quite a shame even though possibilities are promising. The best place for solar and other alternative sources of energy to shine (no pun intended) is during disaster. I’m thinking about this today because I’ve just finished testing Solio H1000. Here’s the promise of solar power during disaster: storm passed through and power has been cut off. You’ve been using your cell phone to reach your family and friends to let them know you are ok. Of course your cell phone didn’t get fully charged because the storm hit in the middle of the night and knocked the power out before it charged. You reach over to solar powered battery recharger and plug your cell phone in. The phone starts to charge. The solar panels are converting the sunlight to power for your cell phone, and you’re up and running again. Here’s the reality. You’ve kept the solar powered recharger in your closet, so the internal battery is dead when you pull it out. The manual you read shows that it needs couple days for it to get fully charged. Having really no other option, you put it in sunny spot hoping for the best and then start to do other things for the day. Continue reading Recharging with Solar Power

Satellite Evolution Group interview (Nov/Dec 2008)

The following text is from an interview that did with Satellite Evolution.  They are UK-based company in case you are wondering about any of the spelling.  The original text is posted at on their website.

Satellite communications: helping millions

The Red Cross of America is humanitarian association that helps millions of people year recover from disasters across the world.  The use of satellite communications within the humanitarian sector has seen marked rise in recent years.  Helen Jameson spoke to Keith Robertory, Disaster Services Technology Manager for the American Red Cross to find out how the organisation is using satellite based technology and why.

Continue reading Satellite Evolution Group interview (Nov/Dec 2008)

Is rugged equipment worth the cost?

A lot of vendors assume that if you respond to disasters that you need ruggedized equipment.  They must have a picture in their head of my colleagues heading into disaster zone with satellite phone in-hand, military spec ruggedized laptop under the arm, BGAN in the backpack with an intention of sitting down in the mud and rain to work. Truth of the matter is that the answer is simply “it depends.” And I hear the collective groan from everyone reading this that simply and it depends should never be used together in the same sentence. 

Continue reading Is rugged equipment worth the cost?

Why should Keith blog?

Blog“Blogs, tweets, spaces, pages, books, oh my.  There are so many voices that create so much noise, why on Earth do I think anyone would be interested in reading my blog?” I said to myself.  I believe that I’m in fairly niche role, one that has some fundamental differences to similar roles and yet other differences are splitting hairs.  When someone asks me what do, I’ve got it down to single, run-on sentence: I’m responsible for all the technology the American Red Cross deploys to large-scale disasters – between 50 and 70 per year where each lasts from two to four weeks.  My team and are unique convergence of emergency response management, technical mobility, infrastructure stability and the critical interface between people and technology.  Honestly, you probably think that I’m playing buzz word bingo with that statement so let me break it down. Continue reading Why should Keith blog?

Incorporating Social Media into Disaster Communications

This is yet another article that discusses using social media as part of larger strategy for reaching people during an incident. The same questions still apply from technology standpoint:\\


  • How will you connect to the internet to post it?
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  • How will people in the impacted region connect to the internet to read it?
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  • Does the network solution (primary and secondary) in your overall strategy support reaching social media websites? Some companies still have software that blocks inappropriate websites which social media can be classed in. Continue reading Incorporating Social Media into Disaster Communications

Thoughts on Inter- and Intra- Operable Communication

Interoperability is not technical problem, and people need to stop talking about it as if it is. There is enough technology out there that if someone wants to bring to different groups to appear to be together on permanent or ad-hoc basis, they can. Interoperability is political problem. Technology can make the beat cop talk directly to the fire truck, and the NGO feeding station directly to the EMS squad – but do you think their respective chains of command want them to? The Federal Government and many others have spent lot of money and energy on the topic of interoperable communications. When the rubber boots hit the ground, how many organizations are fully capable of communicating within themselves?\\\\nSeriously, can understand the allure of having single radio that can easily dial in any first-responder agency or any support to first-responder organization. There is something to be said for that. Balance it with the fact that the Fire Chief wants to control his/her units, the Police Chief his/her’s and so on. That chief is ultimately responsible for all the people under their command. Continue reading Thoughts on Inter- and Intra- Operable Communication

Disaster Response relative to Corporate Continuity’

I believe there is fundamental difference in having business continuity of operations plan (COOP) versus the capacity to respond to disaster. COOP is to regenerate part of the business that was operational prior to the disaster so the business can function again. Deploying technology to disaster is setting up an entirely new site where there was nothing prior and the technology is not regenerating anything. disaster recovery planner should not be assumed to have the same skill set as person who deploys technology in disaster, and vice versa <!–more–>\\\\nA disaster recovery planner is looking to prioritize the service restorations of the technical infrastructure — in conjunction with senior leadership — and should set expectations on what will come up first. They may also have varying degrees of replication and duplication both physically and logically to mitigate the impact and expedite the recovery. Corporate continuity planning may also have the luxury of preplanning alternative locations, establishing agreements, staging equipment and developing personnel structures. The challenges are the politics: How to prove relevance to be on leadership’s radar and get their attention. How to show value to the organization at budget time despite not being used. \\\\nResponding to disaster with technology is different from this. The primary systems, servers and networks are still in place and fully functional. The goal is to stretch the connectivity to new location so people can communicate through voice and data mediums. The challenges are the fundamentals: technology needs shelter; safe place that it can function. It needs sufficient electrical power so that it can operate. And clean power too; few things will kill power supply or UPS like construction grade generator. circular saw doesn’t care how dirty the power is but electrical equipment is very finicky. During disaster, location with the basics can be difficult to find let alone identify ahead of time without knowing the disaster’s actual impact. There is also competition for these places. FEMA is looking for it. State government is looking for it. Other NGOs are heading that way too. The landlords know this and some will quickly dismiss charitable feelings when they believe large entity is coming who will pay top dollar for the space The perspective from inside an organization that does both of these is very interesting indeed. On one side are corporate COOP planners who are following the established best practices. On the other side are people that say “but, umm, we do this every day.” Here lies the rub and misconceptions. If the corporate planners rely too heavily on the disaster responders, they’ll fall short. If there is an event that causes the corporation to COOP, then there it is also likely that there is disaster that needs to be responded to. The mission of disaster response will take the priority for that team and away from the needs of the corporation leaving the corporate planners standing alone. On the flip side, if the disaster responders are not open and willing to share resources, then the organization will excessively spend resources to build separate yet outwardly similar caches of equipment. If the disaster responders do not take the corporate planners and COOP seriously, then the systems they assume will be there that allow them to respond may not be. person cannot extend network into disaster zone when the core of the network isn’t functioning There is something to be learned from both business continuity planners and disaster responders when it comes to effectively preparing business to withstand an incident. They are not that similar and they are not that different. It will require an open dialog where each side can acknowledge the other’s strengths and their own weaknesses <em>As parting acknowledgement or caveat, I’ve completely focused on the technology aspect here. There is just one facet of both COOP and disaster response which also needs to account for business mission, people, and other moving parts.</em>

How hospital could use ICS for pandemic flu incident

A pandemic incident brings number of unique challenges to standard ICS structure. Most obvious is that the day–to–day use of ICS is to handle incidents with specific geographical and chronological boundaries. Events occur in specific place at specific time where first responders converge on, contain and resolve the event. This author believes that there is even certain security for the first–responders and hospital staff in knowing that outside those boundaries, normal routines exist and are not impacted by the event pandemic – as with any serious public health emergency – does not occur in specific place or time. For most any community around the country, the pandemic will not be immediately identifiable, and then appear to be everywhere at once and recur in waves. The first responders and hospital staff will suddenly be in the pandemic with everyone else, and their security of being able to step out of the event is gone. Continue reading How hospital could use ICS for pandemic flu incident