Satellites in public safety

      The need for improved communications is widely recognized in the public safety community, but disagreements between agencies about equipment selection and financial issues have impeded the process of change. These challenges make it...

      The need for improved communications is widely recognized in the public safety community, but disagreements between agencies about equipment selection and financial issues have impeded the process of change. These challenges make it increasingly difficult for law enforcement and other public safety organizations to coordinate and collaborate on rescue plans, and ultimately slow down response time.

   To better serve and protect the public, public safety officials need a communications system that offers priority service, expanded coverage, redundancy and improved interoperability. To meet these needs, government and public safety agencies nationwide are investigating mobile satellite communications.

   Unlike land mobile radios and cellular phones, satellite technology resists terrestrial congestion and destruction, making it available in the most rural and mountainous areas, offering the public safety community a reliable and ubiquitous communications infrastructure when needed.

   In addition to the redundancy of the satellite, public safety officials have found mobility to be critical — allowing emergency responders to stay in touch from the field and ensuring emergency operations center staff can take their satellite equipment with them if a disaster forces them to evacuate.

San Francisco Bay area

   The San Francisco Bay Area is a thriving metropolis consisting of nine counties, 101 cities, 7,000 square miles and a population of nearly 7 million. It is also a region prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, windstorms, wildfires, mudslides and landslides.

   Like many major metropolitan areas, communicating between the various public safety and government agencies located throughout the San Francisco region is challenging. Not only are there numerous public safety and government agencies operating in the region, but they each have their own infrastructure, making it challenging for various agencies to connect during a regional or state emergency.

   The Bay Area needed a reliable communications solution that would allow agencies to coordinate public safety and public service efforts during both day-to-day and emergency operations.

   Remote Satellite Systems International (RSSI), a reseller for satellite communications technologies, realized the critical need for a redundant communications system that would allow its customers — public safety and government agencies throughout the San Francisco area — to connect with each other when terrestrial and cellular networks are damaged or congested.

   Looking to solve this, RSSI began setting up satellite talkgroups using SkyTerra's MSAT-G2 push-to-talk satellite phones.

   In 2006, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which has jurisdiction over the nine counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, approached RSSI about establishing a satellite talkgroup that would allow its officials to easily communicate with each other, as well as other agencies operating in the region. The development of the MTC talkgroup ensures that public safety and public service officials in the region have a communications system they can rely upon.

   In addition to fixed-site installations — installing antennas on buildings so that the MSAT-G2 equipment can be used indoors — most agencies in the region also purchased MSAT-G2 Go-Kits, which are portable kits that allows users the flexibility of communicating on the go.

   Because of RSSI's foresight and initiative, satellite communications has become essential to quick disaster response and coordination of rescue efforts among multiple municipalities and agencies operating in the San Francisco Bay area.


   Federal, state, local and tribal agencies are joining and participating in nationwide and regional overlapping Satellite-based Mutual Aid Radio Talkgroups (SMART). Pioneered by the Department of Justice's Wireless Management Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and operating on SkyTerra's satellite communications network, SMART offers one-to-many "broadcast style" push-to-talk communications.

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