Over the last 30 years, the number of climate-related disasters has tripled as changes in the global climate exacerbate natural disasters and amplify the risk of extreme weather conditions. According to Oxfam, more than 20 million people per year are forced from their homes due to the growing hazards, driving increased risk across the globe and resulting in severe, long-lasting socioeconomic consequences.

With natural disasters and extreme weather events increasing in frequency and severity, it is essential that governments and disaster relief organizations enlist reliable, high-quality connectivity in times of trouble. In the wake of a natural disaster, mission critical connectivity is vital, but, with existing communication systems often damaged — such as mobile towers and wired and wireless internet — a lack of connectivity can delay recovery efforts. Instead, satellite technology is often the most reliable source of connectivity in the aftermath of a natural disaster. 

The Natural Destruction

When Hurricane Iota devastated the Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andrés in November 2020, 98% of houses were destroyed, with entire communities displaced. A Category 5 storm by the time it made landfall, Iota tore apart areas of Colombia, Nicaragua, and Honduras, which had already been hit by another hurricane two weeks prior. Due to the intensity of the storm and the damage to existing communications systems, it was critical that the Colombian government had an efficient and secure way of restoring connectivity to begin the recovery process. Considering these were two remote islands, it was poised to be a challenge. Colombia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies (MinTIC) adopted a satellite connectivity solution to begin restoring higher-bandwidth connectivity for the first responders and government officials to start the rescue mission.

A total of 30 digital connectivity zones, each served by two VSAT antennas and a Wi-Fi hotspot, were set up across the islands to enable high-bandwidth connectivity. Satellite phones and Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminals were provided to the government officials inspecting the damage and coordinating operations. 

The unprecedented addition of COVID-19 meant that safety protocols were an additional challenge for all involved. However, the work was carried out successfully while protecting the employees who were conducting site surveys and deploying the technology. Due to the loss of electric power in some areas of the islands, solar panels and battery storage were required to power the terminals and Wi-Fi. Satellite technology allowed both islands to be reconnected with the world in record time, not only helping first responders to save lives but also providing a lifeline to residents struggling to recover and enabling people to stay in touch with their loved ones.

As the climate situation progresses, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more detrimental to the communities they affect. Hurricane Iota was the 13th named storm and sixth major hurricane in the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. In 2019, there were 860 events that caused economic losses, compared with 980 in 2020. With these numbers expected to continue to rise, critical communications must be top of mind, ensuring that communities are protected and aided in recovery as efficiently as possible.

Rebuilding the Economy

Satellite technology is vital in providing connectivity for governments, aid workers, and local people, but it is also essential for businesses. When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2015, it brought manufacturing to a halt at nearly 50 plants operated by the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world. This was detrimental for Puerto Rico, as pharmaceuticals accounted for 76% of the island’s exports. This was a warning sign to the companies affected, making them realize they needed to be as prepared as possible for the next event in order to save their businesses and get up and running as quickly as possible.

A leading pharmaceutical company implemented satellite technology in preparation for future natural disasters. The company selected an auto-deploy satellite terminal cable of supporting a service of up to 100Mbps — a solution without any recurring costs. At the push of a button, the company will be provided with a secure terrestrial network, ensuring their preparedness for a quick and efficient startup following a natural disaster. Businesses affected by natural disasters need a solution that ensures they are in the best position possible to continue operations following the destruction. Satellite solutions can be quickly deployed if or when disasters occur, allowing for preparedness without any ongoing costs.

Preparation Is Key

Every second counts after a natural disaster, for communities and their economies. It is the responsibility of the government to be as prepared as possible for the major effects of natural destruction. Nothing can be done to stop them, but it is essential that solutions are put in place to lessen the impact and damage. By planning ahead and putting technology solutions in place, fast and efficient connectivity will aid the recovery efforts. When all other networks are down due to a disaster, satellite offers a solution for providing reliable connectivity as quickly as possible. Satellite supports everything from basic phone services to email and video options usually provided by the internet. 

The service provided by satellite solutions is invaluable. Disaster response teams rely on short-term communications that allow them to stay connected throughout every stage of the response efforts. Satellite facilitates voice, video, and applications such as the IoT and telemedicine solutions. Handheld devices are a reliable way for teams to communicate when mobile towers are down, and antenna systems can create Wi-Fi hotspots and private networks. Satellite solutions can also support real-time mapping and surveillance technology. With low-earth orbit (LEO) and high-throughput satellites becoming the future, satellite communication is consequently becoming faster and more reliable to provide necessary bandwidth to run a variety of applications.

Securing a Fast and Reliable Approach

With no way of stopping a natural disaster, coupled with increased frequency, the best method of defense is preparedness. The pressure is on national and local governments to ensure solutions and protocols are in place. A fast and reliable approach to recovery efforts is vital for the rebuilding of communities and the economy.