Connectivity in Calamity

Disaster Communication Principles

Our plans are seemingly so well made. We’re so confident in them that we come to believe they are set in stone, unshakeable. Then along comes something like Covid-19. Or a hurricane appears on a dark horizon, an earthquake shatters our morning quiet, a devastating tornado drops out of the night sky or any number of other reasons when those seemingly well-laid, rock solid plans are all of a sudden out the window. We are reminded all too quickly of just how tenuous are these plans we’ve laid.

There’s another side of the planning coin, however. It’s called preparation and it is something we do control and can remain in control of if we give it a little time and forethought. That preparation has to include the emergency kits, food and water, warm clothing, and other items we can assemble ourselves or purchase pre-made from any of a number of online suppliers. The web harbors a plethora of information on what you should have and where you can get it. As such, even though plans can be thwarted, there is simply no excuse for preparation to be scuttled or misunderstood.

OCENS is a connectivity company. We’re not to here say that staying connected with voice and data connections should be as important as having handy multi-day sources of food, water filtration systems that you know how to use, and lightweight and warm clothing. But it might be to some people, some families, some businesses. Perhaps it should be for subsets of these groups with special needs or dependencies.

This series is for those communities of individuals, groups and businesses who need to be sure they can stay connected during times of calamity. It is going to make practical recommendations respecting specific needs and recognizing budget constraints. Its going to draw from experience providing communication answers during natural disasters (e.g. Katrina) or supporting users who must routinely depend on off-the-grid connectivity solutions (e.g. satellite). Throughout though, it’s going to make clear that preparation means commitment, requires foresight and mandates action. In other words, preparing for our plans to be changed.

We’ll discuss each piece in the series in the same manner.

Need: What’s the specific connectivity issue we are trying to address.

Recommended Solution

Our 1st choice to address this issue.

  • Why: The obvious. Why we think this should be the preferred pathway.
  • Downside: Nothing is perfect. This section references any weaknesses we perceive.
  • Bundled Apps: Some solutions require or greatly benefit from apps. This section mentions those apps.
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: What you pay for the hardware and the airtime service to keep that hardware active and available to you in year 1.
  • Second and later years cost of ownership: After you have paid for your hardware, what would you spend in each subsequent year to keep that unit active. The most important communication lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina? No matter how much money you have spent on communication hardware, its pointless unless you keep that equipment active. Its already too late if you have to wait until the calamity to try to turn the service on. We will give you a hard number for annual cost of preparing you, your family and/or business for the next calamity and then put that in the context of what we all likely spend on a one cup of coffee a day during a year (1 12 oz Starbucks latte: $2.95 or $1077 per year). Hint! In most cases, we spend WAY MORE on coffee!
  • Video: We'll include some links to home videos of the equipment we are discussing and how to use it.

What do you need?

Need: Voice communications

  • Recommended solution: Inmarsat IsatPhone 2
  • Why: Reliable voice communications that are independent of public-switched telephone networks (PSTN) and cellular systems. The IsatPhone 2 also offers the lowest equipment plus annual airtime cost of any satellite phone. The phone uses satellites positioned very high in the sky at fixed locations at the equator. Because it is looking at the same spot in the sky throughout your call, voice quality doesn't wax and wane as satellites move in and out of range. The phone acquires signal rapidly, has an excellent battery life and is well-built to provide many years of service.
  • Downside: Not a good phone for latitudes higher than 55 degrees (e.g. northern Canada, Alaska, Russia and much of Scandinavia) or for use cases where a clear view of the southern sky is not reliably available.
  • Bundled apps: None
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: $1249
  • Second and later years minimum cost of ownership: $539 (Starbucks context: 2x ($1077/$539) - we spend twice as much each year on Starbucks coffee)

  • Second Choice: Iridium 9555
  • Why: The Iridium 9555 costs a few hundred dollars more than the IsatPhone and its monthly airtime plan is also higher but in return it gives you global coverage and a brand new satellite constellation. This is the workhorse of the suite of Iridium phones. A basic but solid satellite phone.
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: $1778
  • Second and later years minimum cost of ownership: $683 (Starbucks context: 1.6x - we spend about 60% more each year on our Starbucks coffee)

Need: Low-Bandwidth Data for Email, Messaging, and Weather

  • Recommended Solution: Iridium GO!
  • Why: The Iridium GO! breaks the satellite phone mold. Its not a handheld phone but instead a brick which broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal to which you can connect with your smartphone, tablet or computer. This allows you to put to use apps and software built for the Iridium GO! for email, messaging and weather. If you can connect to the Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, you can connect to the Iridium GO!
  • Downside: Slowwwwwww data. You will NOT be able to use the Iridium GO! to get on the Internet and you will need to use apps built specifically for the Iridium GO! to even transfer email or message. You really have to involve a second device (smartphone, tablet or computer) to benefit from the Iridium GO!
  • Bundled apps: Iridium GO! voice app, OneMail, OneMessage
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: $1377
  • Second and later years minimum cost of ownership: $683 (Starbucks context: 1.6x - we spend about 60% more each year on our Starbucks coffee)
Iridium GO! Questions and Answers
  • Second Choice: Iridium Extreme 9575 with Sidekick
  • Why: By itself, the Iridium 9575 is a pain to setup and use for low-bandwidth data. Adding an inexpensive Sidekick Wi-Fi-router to the solution resolves that issue and, in effect, turns the Iridium 9575 into a version of the Iridium GO! you can put to your ear and conduct a conversation. We recommend it over the slightly less expensive Iridium 9555 because the Iridium 9575 includes a built-in GPS (as does the Iridium GO!) which allows for tracking and rescue assist.
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: $1978 + $99 Sidekick
  • Second and later years minimum cost of ownership: $683 (Starbucks context: 1.6x - we spend about 60% more each year on our Starbucks coffee)

Need: Internet Access Using Moderate to High-Bandwidth Data Terminals

  • Recommended Choice: Cobham EXPLORER 510 BGAN Terminal
  • Why: We like this unit a lot. Its well-made, considerably more durable and weather resistant than the iSavi and with an upload speed that is twice as fast as the iSavi. However, the cost of ownership rises steeply and since cost is a considered factor in our recommendations.
  • First year minimum cost of ownership: $3395
  • Second and later years minimum cost of ownership: $948 (Starbucks context: 1.13 - we spend about 10% more than that each year on Starbucks coffee)