Generating High-Speed Internet Access For Emergency ResponseWhen a natural or manmade disaster strikes, establishing reliable public safety communications is one of the most critical links in the chain of actions that must occur for responding agencies and emergency workers to have a means to share critical information and coordinate their efforts.
However, by its very nature public safety communications can be hard to maintain, especially when critical pieces of communications infrastructure, such as cell phone towers and radio antennas, are in the path of a severe storm, tornado, hurricane or some other disaster.
The Connectivity Problem
Compounding the problem is human nature. When an emergency happens or when the public is warned of an impending disaster, the first thing many people do is reach for their cell phones. They want to confirm the legitimacy of the warning they saw, get more information on the situation, check on family and friends or call for help. Whatever the reason, this behavior has played out over and over again in emergencies.
Cell phone towers, however, aren’t designed to handle a massive load of traffic at once. The peak traffic providers plan for typically doesn’t account for the massive number of people who will try to use their cell phones in an emergency. As a result, the public often overwhelms the capacity of individual cell sites, leaving many unable to connect—including first responders.
Further, when disasters like hurricanes strike, large swaths of coastal regions, thousands of individual cell towers can quickly be taken out of service either by high winds or flooding or by the loss of electricity and the limited capacity of emergency generators on site.
To their credit, major providers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile prepare for this eventuality with COWS (Cells on Wheels), COLTS (Cells on Light Trucks) and Goats (generators on a trailer) at the ready, but inevitably there will be downtime on wireless networks as these resources are deployed from their staging areas to where they are needed over roadways and bridges that can be flooded and in some instances completely washed away.
Emergency Response Coms Options
At least as long two decades ago, the importance of using the internet for communications and data delivery in an emergency was understood, and in the intervening period it has proven itself time and again in helping emergency responders and the public communicate, assess and respond.
But internet connectivity is simpler said than done in many emergencies. While the beginning stages of an emergency may take some cell towers out of commission and overload others with traffic, there’s an unseen infrastructure supporting those sites that may be equally susceptible to the devastation.
If the event damages or destroys the microwave relays, fiber optic networks, satellite links, routers and other technology needed for the cell towers to function, re-establishing them becomes that much harder and time consuming.
On the plus-side, wireless connectivity to cellular networks is relatively inexpensive, ubiquitous in major cities and suburbs, meaning coverage may be spotty rather than unavailable in an emergency (rural areas are another story), and seem to be brought back online faster with each passing catastrophe as carriers learn and identify ways to improve. Further, tower sites are frequency equipped with an electrical generator to keep them online in the initial phase of an outage.
Those responsible for the planning, implementation and management of emergency communications at the local, state and federal level have several layers of communications to call upon to cope and succeed when disaster strikes.
Satellite communications from portable uplink terminals that can be carried or vehicle mounted are one solution. Different bands have different characteristics. For example, while C-band signals aren’t as susceptible to rain fade as Ku- and Ka-band signals, the size and weight of C-band antennas may make them impractical to deploy in many emergencies. Conversely, Ku- and Ka-band terminals are small and smaller, respectively, but may struggle to punch out a signal in certain circumstances.
However, the overarching benefit of satellite transmission for emergency communications is that it takes all of the potential infrastructure issues, power outage, traffic overload and physical damage complications of cellular service out of the equation. Of course, satellite transmitters have their own drawbacks, such as expense, complexity and the training that’s needed to operate them properly and reduce the chance of interfering with others.
In the not too distant future, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites will change the equation once again, bringing within grasp 5G connectivity without the need for a cell tower.
Boosting High-Speed Internet Connectivity
In emergency situations where internet connectivity initially may be unknown and the reliable connectivity needed for the duration doubtful, there are technologies that aggregate available bandwidth to enable bi-directional transport of video, audio and data IP packets.
TVU Networks offers the TVU Router, a reliable, high-speed internet access point and network accelerator for these types of applications. With the ability to aggregate a variety of connections, including 4G/LTE cellular, cable, satellite, Ethernet and Wi-Fi, the TVU Router offers hotspot functionality for multiple emergency responders. In all it can aggregate up to 12 data links, including multiple 4G/LTE connections from multiple carriers.
TVU Router, which as an entry-level solution runs on the TVU Nano platform, gives emergency responders a high-speed internet connection provided it is paired with one or more available network connections. The professional-grade TVU Router runs on the TVU One transmitter, a rugged, portable solution designed to support maximum performance.
Emergency responders will find setting up and configuring TVU Router in the field to be simple. Easy to carry or mount on a vehicle, the router can be deployed rapidly.
Establishing and maintaining reliable internet connectivity in the field during an emergency can be dicey due to the uncertain connectivity conditions responders will find when they get there. But with some planning that includes satellite connectivity for the worst conditions and a solution like TVU Router, it’s possible to meet the demanding needs of emergency workers for voice, video and data to ensure they can best serve the public when a crisis happens.