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close this bookEmergency Information Management and Telecommunications - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 62 p.)
close this folderPart 2: Emergency telecommunications13
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsFundamental emergency telecommunications concerns
View the documentTypology of telecommunications technologies
View the documentStrategic (worldwide or global) telecommunications systems
View the documentTactical (short-range or local) telecommunications systems

Strategic (worldwide or global) telecommunications systems

All emergency managers involved in international emergency response must weigh the costs and benefits of the various strategic telecommunications systems available to them. In this section we focus on the following types of strategic systems:19

Satellite telecommunications systems20, A number of satellite-based systems are used by disaster response organizations to communicate with their headquarters, donor organizations, and the media. The International Mobile Satellite Organization (Inmarsat) system, set up in 1976 for ship to shore telecommunications, is presently the primary satellite telecommunications system used by land-based disaster and emergency managers. The system uses 4 geo-stationary satellites and 80 land earth stations operated by telecommunications companies around the world; and

High frequency (HF) radio telecommunications systems: HF radio is used by many emergency response organizations to transmit voice, text, and data around the world. The present trend, in fact, is to use more HF short-wave telecommunications for strategic purposes. As relief agencies have begun to realize the high costs of satellite telecommunications calls, and as short-wave links have improved dramatically thanks to the use of FACTOR Level 2 equipment (see below) and Internet email use, short-wave radio is experiencing a “renaissance.”21

19 It is assumed here that in times of disaster, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN or conventional telephone network) (1) may sustain damage and interrupt service or (2) if undamaged, be subject to system overload as incoming calls flood the network. For these reasons, the conventional telephone networks are deemed unreliable as emergency services.

20 Satellite communications, while generally used in strategic systems, do have local or tactical applications as will be seen later in this section.

21 From September 1996 to March 1997, the international short-wave data network of DHA increased from 2 to 12 stations (mostly in central Africa.) This trend is seen at UNHCR, WFP, and WHO as well.

The following table lists a number of these systems and provides an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each:




Inmarsat Standard A Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Fastest way to establish reliable phone/fax links in an initial stage of emergency
· Full phone and fax capability, telex with laptop
· High speed data capability optional
· Connects directly to phone lines
· Connects to ordinary modems
· Can connect to switchboard and be available to many users via field telephones
· Supports full duplex (two-way) telex
· Reliable, easy to use
· Transportable
· Offers password security
· As manufacturers turn to Standard B technology, Standard A terminals may drop significantly in price

· High equipment costs at about US$40,000 for complete station (with high speed data option)
· Calls expensive at $6-10 per minute (UN humanitarian agencies note that usage rates for one Inmarsat Standard A terminal can easily run as high as $10,000 - $20,000 per month - about the cost of purchasing and installing one HF shortwave PACTOR Level 2 station.)
· Cannot be used when mobile
· Should only be used when a telecommunications officer is installing and controlling it (and high usage costs can be monitored)
· Terminal is transportable but still relatively heavy: terminal and parabolic antenna go in one suitcase; fax, power supply for use with car battery in separate box (older equipment is heavy at 30 kg; newer models weigh about 18 kg)
· Manufacturers phasing out production (although support will continue)

Inmarsat Standard B Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Similar to Standard A terminal but with digital technology (all manufacturers now developing B instead of A terminals)
· Handles phone, data, fax, telex at much cheaper rates than Standard A terminal
· Smaller, easier to install antenna
· Some makes provide options 64 Kbit/s duplex high speed data (DHSD) services to link networks and multiple phone and fax lines (eg, with private branch telephone exchange or “PBX”)
· Uses less power than Standard A terminal
· Transportable
· Excellent for video-conferencing in remote locations

· High cost of equipment
· Generally used for broadcasting or other industry video-conferencing
· Same weight and dimensions as Standard A terminal

Inmarsat Standard C Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Cheapest satellite system at about US$4,000 per terminal
· Telecommunications costs at about US$2-3 per text message
· Provides “store-and-forward” text messaging capability (message is sent at convenience of sender; receiver does not have to be available at time of transmittal)
· Text messages can be prepared off-line on personal computer
· Can send text-only messages from a mobile station to a fax machine or links to telex or data networks
· Can be as small in size (volume) as laptop computer
· Weighs only about 2-5 kgs
· Has omni-directional antenna
· Uses little power; runs off batteries for days
· Can be used when mobile if omni-directional antenna is attached
· Products continue to be developed, will be supported long-term
· New application now handles remote version of CC:mail enabling email communication
· Used by many emergency response agencies, particularly for locating convoys in remote areas (when used in conjunction with Global Positioning System or “GPS”)

· Does not provide real-time dialogue capability (store and forward only)
· Sends text only; cannot send voice or graphics images via fax
· Requires word-processing literacy on computer
· Use of “C” requires a functioning laptop with charged batteries
· In telex mode, does not support full duplex; can only send a message and wait for reply (this “store-and-forward” feature is not a problem as long as addressees read their messages and respond promptly)
· Can send to fax machines, but can receive only messages from other C terminals, telexes, and, in some cases, email

Inmarsat Standard-M Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: Portability, ease of use
· Low cost of calls (about US$3-4 per minute) relative to Standard A terminals
· Provides direct dial, digital voice communication with narrow bandwidth over public telephone network
· Connects to standard RJ-11 telephone jacks
· Terminals are compact in attache case, weigh as little as 8 kg
· Can be powered by own internal batteries for 8 hrs on standby and for 1 hr of usage, by car battery, or by generator
· Antenna built into attache-case lid
· Portable telefax capability (in separate attache case)
· Quickly installed; easy to use; easy to train users
· Used by various emergency response organizations (eg, UNHCR, Red Cross)

· Relatively high cost of equipment at about US$12,000
· Unable to work when mobile
· Slow in fax mode relative to Standard A terminals; operates at only 2400 baud (fax machines connecting with Standard M terminals must be able to operate at 2400 baud as well and parameters must be set specifically for slow handshake)
· Faxes will cost twice as much as those sent by Standard A terminals.
· With advent of “Mini-M” terminal, (see next section) no reason to purchase a Standard M.

Inmarsat “Mini-M” Satellite Communications Terminal

· Chief advantage: At half the size of a Standard M terminal (ie similar to a laptop computer), even more portable
· Low cost at about $4,000
· Small battery

HF (High Frequency) Radio (shortwave voice) regional to worldwide applications

· Chief advantage: Low cost strategic telecommunications (at about US$2,000 per unit)
· No telecommunications (per call) fees (unless used to communicate through commercial land stations)
· Flexibility: can handle strategic (global) and tactical (local) telecommunications (although commonly used for regional telecommunications: 50-1000 km)
· Transceivers (ie, transmitter and receiver) are compact; weigh only about 2-10 kg (plus antenna and power supply)
· Portable & mobile stations available (car radio size)

· Less reliable; dependent upon satisfactory ionospheric conditions (HF radio is likely to function daily at some point, although this point changes)
· Tight control of frequency allocation
· Channels/frequencies must be coordinated
· Antenna systems: must be resonant with frequency being used (frequency changes during day require changes in antenna size or automatic tuners); are often unwieldy
· HF radios require some operator training (situation is better with new technologies)

HF Data regional to worldwide applications

· Chief advantage: Free data transmission

All Units:
· Relatively low cost at US$5,000 per unit (base stations plus modem, laptop computer, power supply, antenna)
· No telecommunications fees unless through commercial land station

All Units:
· Reliable data links with similar stations worldwide need locally trained operator
· Slow data transmission

TOR (teleprinter over radio), SITOR, AMTOR Units
· Transmits text messages over HF Radio
· Provides checking feature to ensure correct message
· Can work while equipment is unattended

· Transmits only letters, numbers
· Cannot send email
· Cannot provide Internet access

PACTOR “Level 2” Units
· Can transmit email, binary files, images, TCP/IP
· Can work with an email gateway to provide direct Internet Access
· Transmits data in “packets” which increases transmission speed and reduces errors
· Gives (limited) privacy by use of proprietary mode
· Favorite system of aid organizations (eg, DHA, ICRC, IFRC, UNHCR, WFP, WHO)

PACTOR “Level 2” Units
· Speed depends upon quality of radio; under poor conditions, speed is slower

Note: PACTOR “Level 1” is not suitable for professional use.

Marine and Aeronautical Radio (HF field radio used to contact coast stations which link (patch) sender into public telephone network)

· Chief advantage: As coast stations use high gain receivers, they can boost signals from low power HF radios
· Equipment needed to radio coast stations is compact and cheap at about US$1500-4500.
· Costs per radio/telephone link: about US$4/minute on “pay per use” basis (ie, no monthly charges)
· Can connect international telex on real-time basis
· Often in emergency, need to open account with coast station is waived
· Coast stations operate on 24 hour basis and maintain professional equipment and staff22

· Telephone user tends to talk too long (thinking it is normal phone call); requires training at both ends of line
· Transceivers used by the coast station (Marine service) must be capable of split frequency (duplex or semi-duplex) operations

SatelLife (LEO Satellite/Packet Radio Communications)

· Chief advantage: As non-profit, SatelLife is willing to provide free email service to emergency respondents
· Established to inform health officials in developing countries
· Provides data transmitting capabilities by radio via low earth orbit (LEO) satellite; store and forward messages are relayed from point to point along electronic pathway by satellite or telephone
· System has Internet and Web access
· Satellite has downlink capacity (to ground stations) of 40K or about 20 pages

· Relatively high cost (ground station requires antenna, a personal computer, email software, and high frequency radio transceiver; portable HF transceiver and terminal node controller alone cost about $5,000 if ordered in bulk)
· System doesn’t operate in “real-time”; sends, receives 4 times a day (when LEO satellite is overhead); estimated turnaround time for message can be 24 hours
· Uplink capacity is only 10K (about 5 pages)

Amateur (Ham) Radio Service (refers to special HF radio rules and transmission bands, not particular types of HF equipment)

· Chief advantage: Wide network encouraged by most governments to operate in emergencies
· Relatively inexpensive equipment (HF radio transceivers); free to use (no per message costs)
· With invocation of ITU Resolution 640 (see above), provides least administrative or legal hurdles for HF radio use in emergency and can pass messages to third parties in emergencies (HF units must be reconfigured to non-amateur bands to pass messages to non-amateur operators)
· Provides common pool of agreed frequencies In HF bands (overcomes problems of organizations working with incompatible frequencies)
· General coverage transceivers can be purchased which can make local calls or long distance via coast stations (marine radio)
· Handles data telecommunications
· Does not depend upon any ground infrastructure; more likely to withstand impact of severe hazard
· Has low power requirements (eg, batteries and generators); able effectively to traffic others’ messages in the area

· Existence of network is subject to the availability of Amateur Radio licensing in the country
· Privacy is virtually non-existent

22 For coast station listing, consult national PTT. A full listing can be found in the book Admiralty List of Signals, published by HMSO (British Government Press). Very capable, efficient coast stations include Portishead Radio in Britain and Capetown Radio in South Africa.

Note: The Internet, while offering low cost, easy-to-use computer-based strategic telecommunications is not viewed as a reliable emergency telecommunications network to the extent that users are dependent upon the normal Public Switched Telephone Network or “PSTN” for transmission and reception of electronic mail. Should a hazard destroy components of the satellite or terrestrial ground switching stations and distribution networks or overload result from increased traffic during an emergency situation, then use of the Internet, like any telephone-based system, would be interrupted.

Where access to the Internet can be assured (eg, via HF radio or other direct satellite links such as that employed by the “SatelLife” telecommunications system listed in the table above, or via cc:mail over Inmarsat Standard “C”), then email via the Internet can serve as another strategic telecommunications link under emergency conditions. This link depends, of course, on the frequency with which the messages are read and the efficiency with which they are routed.

Q. Scenario: A major earthquake has just demolished much of the nation’s capital. The public telephone network has been completely destroyed. Your organization has been requested by the President to contact a number of disaster response organizations in Geneva. How might you conceivably do this?

A. ____________________________________________________________



Pass a message via an Amateur Radio Operator to a coast station in Portishead, England (or Berne, Switzerland) which could then patch the message to the Swiss public telephone network.