When disaster strikes, it’s difficult to maintain communications in the affected area and damage estimations can be dangerous. Satellite technology can help solve both of these issues quickly when time is of the essence.



Reliable communications

One of the biggest challenges recovery agents and government agencies face in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is how to restore communications. Communications are especially crucial during the first 72 hours after a disaster event occurs because this is the period where lives are saved. Governmental relief agencies and humanitarian organizations require reliable communication networks to coordinate efforts with people in the affected communities. Unfortunately, common terrestrial networks tend to be inoperable during this important window of time. This could be due to a few different factors, such as:

    • Damaged infrastructure. Floods, fires, earthquakes and other disasters cause widespread damage that can harm critical communications infrastructure. This type of failure is extremely hard to fix within the 72-hour time frame, and other measures must be taken to ensure effective communications.
    • Power failure. Even if infrastructure such as cell towers remain intact, power failure can render them useless. Disasters tend to down power lines and damage transformers. Restoring power to the region is always a major priority, but even so the downtime can be considerable. Even for “normal” disasters, the average power outage lasts between 20-200 hours. For more catastrophic events, it could be weeks.
    • Network overload. There are cases where a disaster occurs and there is neither far-reaching power outages nor damaged communications infrastructure. In these “lucky” instances, communications networks could be overloaded. After such an event, the first instinct of most people is to call loved ones and friends. When this happens, the overtaxed networks fail and critical calls may not go through.

The answer to this vital concern is to employ satellite-based communications systems into the field immediately after a disaster. Unlike terrestrial systems, satellite networks are largely protected from environmental variables. Since even Low Earth Orbit satellites float 300-700 miles above the surface, they aren’t affected by fires, floods or other calamities.

As such, satellite-based systems provide more reliable communication. First responders can use satellite phones so that they can communicate with their teams. Additionally, mobile VSAT stations located at undamaged central shelters within the affected community can provide people with the voice and data communications they need. Furthermore, if electricity in the area is down, satellite communications can be powered by batteries as well as diesel or solar-powered generators. It’s the only solution that is guaranteed during this urgent time.



Damage estimates

Satellite technology is also uniquely qualified to help with damage estimation after a disaster. With high-resolution satellite imagery of the disaster region, this information is then shared with first responders to inform them about the most damaged areas. They can then assess roads to plan proper routes and identify destroyed buildings so that relief agents can be dispatched to the right places.

While this technology has been used often in the past for such purposes, it has now matured to the point where precise data can be interpreted. Satellite image stations used for disasters now have resolutions of 0.5 meters per pixel. This is enough resolution to make out more detail than ever before, which helps construct more accurate damage estimates and prevents recovery teams from going into damaged areas unprepared.

There are essentially two types of debris seen after a disaster event: permanent structural damage and mobile debris. Knowing the distinction reduces recovery time for the region. For example, if it is known that the debris blocking a road is lightweight and mobile, recovery teams could remove the debris immediately to get the road back into usable condition. The team sent would be more equipped for the task at hand, while different teams with more heavy-duty equipment would be deployed to other appropriate areas.

It comes down to more efficient allocation of resources. During crises, efficient allocation can save lives. Satellite technology is at the forefront of this noble cause.


Examples of satellite technology aiding with disaster recovery

History is filled with examples of satellites helping with the disaster recovery process. Notable cases include:

    • Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, before-and-after satellite photos were compared to assess damage and plan disaster relief.
    • Haitian earthquake of 2010. When a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake ravaged the island nation of Haiti in 2010, VSAT terminals were deployed within 24 hours. This helped keep critical communications up and saved many lives.
    • Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. This enormous 9.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan and caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident. Utilizing satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, detailed topology reports were generated. This helped pinpoint flooded areas of the country where aid could be dispatched immediately.
    • California wildfires of 2018. As fires swept through California, satellite technology was able to capture their severity and predict the most dangerous spots. For example, sloped areas with low vegetation were susceptible to mudslides. Satellites identified these locations, and teams began heavily monitoring them. At the first sign of trouble, the people living at the bottom of the slopes could be evacuated.

The truth is, nearly all disaster relief efforts have been aided by satellites since the technology became ubiquitous in the 1970s. They have become especially relevant over the past two decades, as new technologies emerged and higher resolutions were attained. It is expected this trend will continue into the future, as redundant communications and aerial image analysis become integral components in disaster relief management.

X2nSat has been a leader in the satellite communications industry for over 22 years. They offer a wide variety of satellite solutions for a diverse set of industries such as healthcare, utilities, enterprise, maritime and more. If you’d like more information about the many services X2nSat provides, contact them today for a consultation. They will assess your needs and determine the best solution for your company.

About the Author

Cara is the marketing coordinator at X2nSat. She's a social media maverick, a content genius, and an author in her spare time. Writing and marketing are her true passions.