Satellite Emergency Communications Deployed to Assist Humanitarian Needs

Posted by Michelle Howard
Monday, November 11, 2013

The IMSO Director General, Captain Esteban Pacha-Vicente, is pleased to provide information about deployment of satellite emergency communications in the Philippines to assist in the management of the very critical humanitarian situation in this area.

Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) and the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Agency (UNDAC) are working together to bring much needed support to the disaster-stricken Philippines. TSF deployed on November 7, the day before typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) hit the Philippines – predicted at that time to be a Category 5 typhoon with wind speeds of up to 300 km/h, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded history.

The disaster has called for great humanitarian aid due to the 4.1 million people it could potentially affect in the areas of Visayas and Leyte. It is for this reason that Télécoms Sans Frontières’ Bangkok based team, as well as backup from its international headquarters in Europe, made way for the Philippines on 07/11/13 before the typhoon struck to provide the immediate, essential mobile communications support to the hundreds of thousands of people affected as well as the numerous humanitarian aid agencies in the field. The reinforcements sent from TSF’s international HQ mean that the hundreds and thousands of affected people will be able to make calls to their families to inform them of their situation, in many cases reassuring them that they are still alive.

Thanks to its partnership with UNDAC, TSF is one of the first NGO responders on the ground, allowing for telecoms assessments to be carried out as well as the immediate installation of telecoms centres to generate a coordination hub for the other NGOs in the disaster zone.

Being amongst the first on the ground after Haiyan struck, this allowed TSF to pre-position three telecom centres for relief coordination before the influx of humanitarian aid arrived in the aftermath. The town of Tacloban has been identified at the most affected area, with head of UNDAC, Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, describing the area as having suffered “destruction on a massive scale”. TSF has already installed three functioning satellite connections which provide internet to the telecom centres put in place – the first, to the benefit of the Filipino NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council) as well as the Ministry of Telecommunication, the second, used by the United Nations agencies of OCHA, WFP and UNDAC and the third for all the other humanitarian organizations present in the area.

Inmarsat satellite communications provided by TSF’s centres are essential to any humanitarian operation. They provide all NGOs with a management hub from which they can send and receive essential information concerning their operations, meaning they can work as efficiently as possible and coordinate their actions amongst the millions of people affected by Haiyan. Working in collaboration with local telephone operator, TSF has carried out assessments of the telecom situation and it is estimated that it could take up to two months or more before the telecommunications networks are fully restored.

TSF has also provided direct support to the Filipino government - The Minister of Home Affairs and his deputy have both been supplied with Inmarsat SatPhones in order improve communication capacities within the government and beyond.

Access to reliable satellite telecommunications in emergency situations becomes critical especially in remote areas and when terrestrial networks are often seriously damaged or destroyed after a natural disaster. The IMSO Convention provides that IMSO, through existing international mechanisms dealing with technical assistance, should seek to assist satellite providers in their effort to ensure that all areas, where there is a need, are provided with mobile satellite communications services.

IMSO periodically receives information about deployment of emergency communications in cases of natural disasters or humanitarian needs provided by Inmarsat and deployed on-the-scene by Télécoms Sans Frontières, the non-governmental organization responsible of establishing emergency telecommunications centres to serve the UN, national governments and NGOs humanitarian teams.

Emergency communications are provided by satellite operators through modern equipment that can be rapidly deployed on the scene. Inmarsat provides BGAN terminals that are deployable within minutes and allow satellite broadband and voice and fax services, as well as portable IsatPhones that offer instant satellite telephone communications, including text and email messaging as well as GPS location data.

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