Coping when disaster strikes
Satellite systems can help in the rapid deployment of telecommunications infrastructure where ground-based alternatives are no longer available, such as after a natural or industrial hazard. However, satellite phones and other heavy cumbersome devices are not always suitable for these situations. As a result, an EU-funded proposal was launched in 2006 to study, develop and validate rapidly deployable lightweight communications infrastructures specifically designed for emergency conditions. The goal of the 'Wireless infrastructure over satellite for emergency communications' (Wisecom) project was to define the reference architecture of an emergency telecommunication solution, to be called Wisecom system. The project was split in two main phases. The first phase involved analysing and designing the reference architecture of the Wisecom system. The second phase focused on the development and testing of this system, and validating the key features. During the first phase, the team looked at issues ranging from classical management of disaster situations to licensing and regulatory issues for emergency telecommunications. These investigations reinforced the necessity of a lightweight, robust and easily deployable telecommunication system to quickly restore local coverage with the most common wireless communication standards. Such a system would enable highly stressed victims and members of rescue teams to use their own well-known, personal telecommunication devices to access the provided telecommunication services. The investigation phase identified the 'Wisecom access terminal' (WAT) as the critical device for emergency telecommunication. As this device would be carried to the place of the disaster, it had to be light and as small as a suitcase. In addition, it needed to be resistant to shock, water, humidity, dust and heat. The integration of satellites with terrestrial technologies also needed to be taken into account. The Wisecom project came up with a solution that could be easily upgraded to fit with upcoming technologies, and accommodate the complex interactions between rescue teams and different service providers. Testing and validation was then carried out. The project succeeded in integrating several terrestrial mobile radio networks over lightweight and rapidly deployable satellite systems, designed specifically for public safety communication. The targeted infrastructure, covering bi-directional communication needs for voice and data, is scalable and works for limited user group up to a larger group. What is more, the equipment can easily be carried by one person. By facilitating effective communication to and from citizens and enabling rapidly deployable emergency telecommunications systems, the Wisecom project could help save lives.