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As the only broadband connectivity option available everywhere across the U.S., satellite technology today is a key, integrated component of the country’s telecom infrastructure. Over one million subscribers enjoy the benefits of high-speed satellite Internet access, representing a rapidly growing percentage of the estimated 10 to 15 million households either unserved or underserved by terrestrial broadband technologies. And that’s in addition to the several hundreds of thousands of large and small enterprise and government agency sites connected by satellite networks.
But in times of disaster, satellite takes on an even more critical role. It presents the only true alternate communications path when terrestrial wireline and wireless networks are most vulnerable to disruption and outages—and it can be deployed immediately after disaster strikes to support life-saving emergency response and recovery activities.
In October 2012, when Superstorm Sandy pummeled the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, many thousands went without power for weeks. And while flooding and power outages had knocked out base stations, towers, and switching centers of terrestrial providers, satellite networks withstood the disaster with limited or no service disruption. Hughes heeded the call to action in Sandy’s aftermath and supported extensive relief efforts across the region.
The Rockaway Peninsula of Queens, New York was especially hard hit during the storm and left with little or no communications for its population of more than 175,000. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) quickly opened Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) in the region impacted by the storm, including in Rockaway, to provide information about services such as housing, rental assistance, and referrals to other agencies. But with terrestrial lines down, volunteers and disaster victims were unable to make calls or apply for services online. Hughes joined the recovery battle and provided 20 of the DRCs with terminals and high-speed satellite connectivity, including voice over IP, to help people obtain needed services.
Meanwhile, in the Breezy Point area of New York, more than 100 homes were decimated by a six-alarm fire during the storm. The difficult conditions were complicated by the fact that no terrestrial communications were available at the command center set up by Habitat for Humanity of Westchester, New York to help coordinate the rebuilding efforts. Responding to a request from the Global VSAT Forum, Hughes, along with Cisco, provided key communications capabilities, including broadband services, to assist in the recovery effort.
“The combined assistance from the Global VSAT Forum, Hughes, and Cisco was invaluable,” said Jim Killoran, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Westchester. “This support was critical to our success in helping to alleviate suffering and get families closer to being in their homes.”
As part of its normal satellite service delivery, Hughes continuously monitors customer sites across the region, which includes thousands of gas stations, restaurants, pharmacies, and hotels. Through this site monitoring, Hughes was able to provide a valuable service to the All Hazards Consortium (AHC)—identifying which businesses had power, along with other site-related data—and quickly disseminating up-to-date information to first responders, officials, and key emergency operations centers. (See related story “In the Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy” in Channels Winter 2012.)
“Satellite technology has again demonstrated its resilience in the face of a disaster,” said Tony Bardo, assistant vice president of Government Solutions at Hughes, “We’re honored to be playing an important part in supporting these efforts to help families rebuild their lives.”
There is no predicting the next disaster. But no matter when or where it may occur, advance planning and preparation is essential to save lives. And as proven in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, that calls for deploying the robust power of satellite technology to support critical relief and recovery efforts.