America’s Emergency Network Gets the Word Out with HughesNet® and SPACEWAY® 3
August 2008. Tropical Storm Fay was blasting Putnam County, Florida, leaving widespread flooding in this rural area between Jacksonville and Orlando on the St. John’s River. But at the county’s emergency operations center, officials were directing citizens where to call, what to do, and how to get help. With the flick of a switch, the ops center immediately streamed the briefing over satellite, which was picked up by regional news outlet jacksonville.com. For the first time, local citizens were able to get live briefings from the Putnam County Operations Center on their computers.
A Communications Void
Many U.S. state and local governments have developed emergency operations plans to facilitate a rapid response in the event of an emergency like a tornado, a hurricane, or a terrorist attack. These plans address such critical activities as evacuation, sheltering, distribution of supplies, and emergency animal care. But a vital piece has still been missing—an effective communications system to quickly disseminate the information that emergency centers produce.
Enter America’s Emergency Network (AEN), a satellite-based emergency communications system designed by two weather veterans to fill critical communications gaps in the nation’s emergency system. Former CBS News Hurricane Analyst Bryan Norcross and former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield created AEN to enable emergency managers and other officials to instantly transmit, via satellite—to the public and each other—real-time emergency information through the Internet and the media.
Real-Time Emergency Communications
Hughes is providing the broadband satellite backbone of AEN’s pioneering satellite-video-Internet emergency communications network using HughesNet broadband satellite service. Although the AEN system is still in beta form, the company opened it as a public service in response to the busy 2008 hurricane season. Indeed, the scenario in Putnam County would not have been possible without the services and capabilities of AEN.
According to Norcross, now president and chief executive officer of AEN, “Whether it’s a disaster that causes the infrastructure to fail, like a hurricane, or an emergency such as a tanker truck that’s leaking poisonous gas, we need a network that can communicate information instantly. And the only communications system that we can count on to function after a disaster is a satellite system.”
Affordable Bandwidth—On Demand
AEN’s state-of-the-art communications system transmits up to three simultaneous video streams in high resolution for television or in a lower resolution for broad public distribution. This high-performance, on-demand capability is made possible by HughesNet services operating over SPACEWAY 3, the world’s only commercial satellite with onboard switching and routing.
“There’s no more perfect combination of a service capability meeting a need, than bandwidth-on-demand and emergency communications,” said Norcross. “By its nature, an emergency communications system is really an insurance policy that you need to have working for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” With bandwidth-on-demand enabled by SPACEWAY 3, AEN only pays for full bandwidth when it’s needed in emergency situations to stream live video news briefings.
Currently deployed in several Florida counties, the AEN system will eventually expand to handle video streams originating from any location in the United States, southern Canada, Puerto Rico, and major Latin American cities. Private businesses that have a connection to the public in emergency situations, such as insurance companies and power companies, represent another potential market.
Getting the Word Out
Back in Putnam County, Jayson Southworth, a county emergency management senior planner, was enthusiastic about AEN’s performance during Tropical Storm Fay. “The system itself is a masterpiece of simplicity and technology. The audio and video transmission over satellite allowed us to supply needed information at a moment’s notice. When you have an emergency like this, being able to provide consistent, reliable information to your residents, as well as to state and federal stakeholders, is invaluable. I just can’t say enough good things about the AEN system.”