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Using Satellite Communications for Disaster Recovery, Part 3

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Satellite phones? Mobile voice and data terminals? They can be life-savers in times of disaster. In part three of his series on satellite communications in disaster recovery, Leo Wrobel encourages you to jump right in and use some really cool applications of these winning satellite-based recovery solutions.
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The last article in this series ended with a promise to look at some hypothetical examples of winning satellite-based recovery solutions. Now that the basics of the technology have been laid down in previous articles, you can jump right in and use some really cool applications.

Satellite Phones for Command and Control

In any recovery effort, you need to be concerned with two types of communications. One consists of the links that connect your customers to you, which can be incoming phone lines, access to the web, or a variety of other modes of operation. Although they might seem to be of primary importance because they represent your organization’s cash register, in reality they are number 2. Your main priority is to reestablish essential command and control. Stated another way, although your organization might have the finest disaster recovery plan in the world, it is essentially useless if you can’t get in contact—now—with the people you will need to recover.

How can you call people back to work if your telephone serving central office is down? Don’t think that does not happen. Recently, a Verizon central office in Raymond, New Hampshire went under water. A Nor’easter was anything but an Easter present for Verizon. As the storm surged up the east coast, torrential rains overflowed creeks and flooded the Verizon one-story central office. Verizon distributed free mobile phones to police, fire, EMS, other essential services, as well as to any area residents in need.

Under some circumstances you might not be able to count on your wireless phone, either. A mobile telephone serving office (MTSO) usually has to terminate back into the wire line network at some point. Sometimes this is through an "end office," and occasionally it occurs in a more important central office called a "tandem." Either of these types of central offices can have problems that affect both the wire line and the wireless networks. Tandems not only switch traffic for the immediate area but they also switch traffic for other end offices. Among other things, the disaster becomes more widespread as well as making tandems very tempting targets for terrorists.

In these situations, a handheld satellite phone can be a godsend. Units available today typically are pretty rugged insofar as being waterproof and shock- or dust-resistant for use in harsh environments. They offer many of the same features as regular or wireless phones—such as the capability to store many numbers as well as to speed dial them after a disaster. (Where is your callout list at this moment—in the building that just burned down?) Many are also headset or Blue Tooth–compatible allowing both hands to remain free. Remember: you could be writing, installing equipment, tending the wounded, driving in wicked weather, or doing many other things that will require use of both hands in a disaster. Many handheld satellite phones also include features such as voicemail or call forwarding, which can be very useful.

A typical satellite handset provides three or four hours of "talk" time and about a day of standby, so don’t forget extra batteries. It might be some time before the lights come back on again.

You need a clear line of sight to use a satellite phone, which can be a problem if the storm is still going on when you need to make a call. Some of these phones require that you dial an international access code; others require 00, then the number, and so on. This is because the calling area of a satellite is the planet, for all practical purposes—with the possible exception of the north and south poles. In any event, you should know how to dial and which access codes to use in advance to avoid wasting valuable time in a disaster.

Satellite phones are still expensive, with phones costing a few hundred dollars and rate plans from $1.00 per minute and up. However, they are worth it. Let me tell you why.

Long ago, the U.S. military invented the term CCC: Command, Control, and Communications. They were the three most essential elements for the military to accomplish a given mission, such as getting our missiles out of the ground before the Russians did. To do that, the military quickly maneuvered a large number of people. That’s the Command part. Targets had to be acquired and the situation accurately assessed; ergo, the Control part of the three Cs. Finally, orders had to be dispatched about exactly what to do, how to respond, and who was responsible to do it. That’s the Communications part. Hence the term CCC, or 3C.

More recently, Computers were added, making the acronym Command, Control, Communications, Computers, or 4C. In recognition of the fact that decisions are now made in minutes or split-seconds, computers have become indispensable to the command and control process in view of their rapid response time.

As far as I can tell, the current term of art with the military, is 4Ci. This term is the same as 4C but with the i added, which stands for intelligence. In so many words, it means using the four Cs, combined with an accurate assessment of the disaster situation—hence the addition of intelligence.

So where do satellite phones play into this process and why are they so valuable to the recovery process? It’s because they preserve and aid in the restoration of everything contained in 4Ci.

It is not a coincidence that the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) is the largest supplier of satellite services in the world. Satellites assure that Command, Control and Communications are preserved. Satellite technology can also recover data—and hence Computers—through myriad technologies, including mobile broadband area networks (discussed later in this article). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a handheld satellite device can provide on-the—spot situational analysis under virtually any conditions and in spite of any damage to the existing telecommunications infrastructure. Hence, the i part of 4Ci.

In the critical first hours after a disaster, preservation of 4Ci is worth far more than a dollar a minute. In fact, I submit to you that today’s business is ready for this level of precision. I have even coined a new phrase (b4Ci) in my latest book and named one of my companies after that term. The b is for business.

In summary, don’t think about satellite phones as backup for customer communications, at least initially. Think of them in terms of b4Ci.

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