Katrina was a wake up call for many in the public safety communications area. Satellite communications ("Satcom") allows communication after terrestrial systems have failed or been destroyed.
A. Metro Boston Satcom Project
The Metro Boston (UASI) 9 cities are acquiring both Iridium and MSV Satcom equipment and service. See the links to the left for technical information such as brochures, manuals, and product specs documents. Contact Touchstone-L3's David Menzies at (978) 594-1300, firstname.lastname@example.org or Cambridge Emergency Communications's George Fosque at 617-349-6911, email@example.com for more information.
Some key points:
- Iridium 9505A phones in Pelican cases with car kits and solar chargers are going to police and fire chiefs, emergency managers, public health officers, and lead government officials (Mayors or Managers) in the MBHSR.
- Fixed and Docked Iridium phones are being installed in dispatch centers and EOCs in these cities.
- MSV satellite-based units (MSAT G2s) with Dispatch Radio functionality are also being installed in Dispatch Centers and EOCs and linked to other such units in CMEDs and other locations statewide. Any user on a talkgroup can transmit and all other users hear the transmission; it works like a regional or statewide radio channel. See MSV Quote for Boston Metro.
Contacts for Boston Metro are:
MSV Service: Roanna Foggo, Mobile Satellite Ventures, (403) 287-5011 (roannaATnetworkinv.com - where the AT is an @ sign)
MSV Gear: Network Innovations, 877-311-1411.
Iridium Gear and Service: Anthony Rivera, SatCom Direct, (321) 777-3000
Public Health: Separately, the MA Department of Public Health is acquiring Globalstar phones for public health facilities plus MSV units for CMED facilities. They are using both the radio and phone capabilities of the MSV MSAT G2 units.
Contact Dana Ohannessian, MPA Comm Coordinator at 617-624-5015. Also contact Adam Chasen at SSG (DPH Satcom consultant) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Adam for the MSV Install Tips by SSG/DPH document in the right-hand link list (shows parts/pieces to their MSAT G2 installs in initial CMEDs in Mass.; note surge suppression gear that they found)
Resource: State of Kentucky SatCom project.
B. General Info on Sat Phones
Good general reference for public safety: First Responders Guide to Satellite Communications
Written early 2006:
1. Satellite Phones
Even the FCC Chairman reported that Satellite communications appeared to be the only form reliably available to responders and officials in the storm damaged areas of Katrina. Here is a brief overview.
Low Earth Orbit Satellite systems offering portable handsets
GlobalStar is one of only two Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite communication systems covering North America that offers portable handsets. The other system is Iridium. NYC has 125+ Globalstars and seems pleased. Boston has some Iridium handsets and is pleased as well. There are many other users of both systems: GlobarStar appears to cater to a mass audience of boaters and outdoors people; Iridium appears to cater to those needing full worldwide/polar coverage and to governmental users (DOD is a major user of the system).
Both appear to work for voice communications if you are outside in the Boston area. Neither the GlobalStar Model 1600 handsets nor the Iridium 9505A handsets will work inside a building or car; you need an external antenna or one of their fixed phones for inside a dispatch center or fixed EOC; their transportable kits are best for a mobile van or more flexible use where you can set up a phone and then run a cable to a roof-mounted antenna.
Generally you need a view down to 10 degrees of the horizon as the satellite passes over your area in about 10-15 minutes (a sat footprint can be 3000 mi in diameter with many spot beams)
A solar recharger gives complete freedom from even the need for generator power.
|Number of Satellites||66||48|
|Type of Satellite System||Polar (covers whole earth)||Walker (covers area +/- 68 degrees)|
|Architecture||Inter-sat links; needs ground station only to setup call||"Bent-pipe" architecture; needs ground station in footprint of sat and user and to connect call|
|# Ground Stations||2: Tempe, AZ plus backup||many: Boston uses Ontario, CAN; backups available|
|Diversity: Sats usually in view of Boston||1||2|
|Handset Model||GlobalStar 1600||Iridium 9505a|
|Est. Cost of Handset||$600||$1600|
|Est Cost of Cheapest Plan||$25/mo with 0 min.||$50/mo with 60 min.|
|Fixed Site Model||MXU 2000||GSP 2900|
|Est. Cost of Advanced Fixed Site Model||$15,000||$2,500|
|Car Kits Available||Yes||Yes|
|Transportable Kits||Yes, plus Dock System||Yes|
|Data||Yes, Optional, 2.5K||Yes, Optional, 9.6K|
|Sales||through dealers||through dealers|
Note that sat phones only serve as a worse case backup for a few key top officials/commanders when radio and cell phones don't work; but they don't help you talk to your field personnel.
More on Sat systems here from the folks that equip all the major expeditions to far off places; they know what they are talking about. Then see this chapter in a MIT technical paper on both systems; note that the paper was written as both systems were emerging from bankruptcy.
Fact Sheet on GlobalStar Satellite Phones (PDF)
Geosynchronous Satellite Systems
The other type of satellite system places the satellite approximately 22,000 miles away in "geo-stationary" orbit. This is the traditional type of system used for telecommunications, defense, and and many other purposes (e.g., DirectTV).
Inmarsat is the leading provider of geosync satellite communications. Users with various types of larger or smaller Inmarsat "terminals" can do voice and data communications. See information about their new laptop-sized Regional BGAN system IP Modem or their mini-M system. Inmarsat has long provided sat communications to state EOC's, state and federal agencies, news organizations, and many other users especially where high-volume data, voice and FAX services are needed at fixed or mobile command locations.
Also to be considered, particularly by public safety dispatch and command centers, is Mobile Satellite Ventures. They operate two geosync sats (MSat 1 and Msat 2) to provide voice and data services. They offer a dual functionality that let's a terminal handset user use a Push-to-Talk Dispatch button to make a transmission on a talkgroup that is heard by all users with access to that talkgroup. Regular voice calls can also be made using a separate button. CDC, FEMA, MEMA, Kentucky, Connecticut, and Florida health facilities and Miami-Dade Rescue are said to be users. Check out their latest terminal offering, the MSAT-G2, made by Hughes and available in 2006. Look at a sheet on the operation of a MSV terminal with talkgroups.
2. Bring in a Public Safety COW for your field personnel!
When your local Motorola or other repeater sites are blow off rooftops (or the underlying building or tower falls down); you need to get alternate repeaters in and running quickly. That's the only way to get your police and fire responders back on the air on your local frequencies.
That's what a COW is to the cell providers (A Cell on Wheels). This is a trailer with a crankup tower and antenna, a generator, a fuel tank, and an equipment cabinet with space for a few repeaters/base stations with your own public safety frequencies. Motorola has one such unit as an example; other suppliers have them as well. They are undoubtedly expensive; share in a region.
Perhaps MEMA has one that you can install your frequency on, so you have the technical ability to use it (assuming it is not deloyed elsewhere when you need it).
Also, there are many mobile command vans (e.g., Barnstable County has a particularly nice one; also Middlesex County) that with planning can be brought in and operate on your frequencies.
3. Get priority on your cell phone with WPS
4. Get generators installed on your key radio sites.
5. Get UPS's installed on your key radio equipment.
Key SatComm Links
Iridium Quick Instructions for Metro Boston PDF (4/07)