Each year, PATRIOT exercises test the National Guard’s abilities to support response operations during natural disasters. Simulated exercises bring together teams from the National Guard, Air National Guard, Emergency Management Agency, and Department of Homeland Security, along with local, state, and federal partners. The responders are presented with a disaster scenario and go through the paces of response to test their operational processes and ensure they are prepared for any type of emergency.
This year’s PATRIOT 2021 exercises involved a simulated passenger train derailment in Wisconsin. Emergency response teams evacuated and triaged roughly 75 “passengers” suffering injuries ranging from neck and back problems to contusions. Helicopters were on hand to airlift “victims” to medical facilities.
National Guard teams arrived on scene equipped with a Hughes SatCell Connect kit, enabling them to activate a secure, private “bubble” of cell service within minutes. With the ability to create an open standards LTE network integrated with satellite backhaul service, first responders from federal agencies, as well as state and local governments and relief organizations could use mobile phones to communicate with the command center and each other. Bubbles span 1.25-miles and support up to 10,000 users
The SatCell Connect kit supplied by Hughes and deployed by the National Guard at PATRIOT 2021 weighs less than 15 pounds and includes an ultra-compact JUPITER™ System VSAT terminal which connected to the JUPITER 1 satellite. The satellite backhaul service connects users to the Internet and anywhere else in the world; they can place voice calls and transmit photos, texts, and live video. Being able to experience and test these capabilities during practice exercises is essential to response preparedness, since disasters often damage communications infrastructure or occur in remote areas without service.
According to Dan Williams, Hughes Defense senior director and a member of the National Guard, SatCell Connect offers dramatically improved capabilities over the military band radios typically used by emergency response teams.
“Radios seem easy, but they’re limited in capabilities. They also have batteries that die and need to be replaced – which often happens during high usage times. They require regular maintenance and are expensive to ship because of heavy cables, charging stations, and extra batteries,” he explained.
“What SatCell Connect delivers is the ability to bring real-time situational awareness to the incident commander, who may be miles away,” he said. “Radios can’t do that. They offer only one-tenth of the capabilities of smartphones. Plus, not everyone knows how to operate a radio. They’re tricky, cumbersome, and slow. You can accidentally change the channel, like when you stick it back in your holster. Then you can’t hear anyone. None of those issues exist with the phones.”
Sharing insights gained as a first responder, Mr. Williams concluded: “Being able to hold live video calls during operations is just like FaceTime. If we could do everything on cell phones and provide incident commanders with a window into the catastrophe happening on the ground, that would be great. It improves the way a commander directs resources, makes decisions, and resolves issues in matters where every minute counts.”