Satellite Locators – Things to Consider
After every hurricane NGOs and responders of all types ask what to do about communication when the cell towers are not working. Most societies have become dependent on cellular communication for basic operational needs. Personally, it may be to find a place to stay if a home is destroyed. Professionally, it is to coordinate rescue, logistics, and communication when radios are not compatible or out of range. For NGOs the problem is a bit different since most are underfunded and the average volunteer may struggle with new technology. In comes satellite locators.
Post Disaster Communication
Immediately following a major hurricane, cell phone service is often limited. Towers may be out of operation or the traffic may be so high you cannot communicate. It certainly doesn’t help to have everyone uploading videos and live streaming when rescues are still underway.
PubSafe evaluated three satellite locators and communicators. Each having a similar feature set and location is the most basic function. Knowing a persons location is needed to aid in rescue but also to know where people are so they can be dispatched to assistance missions.
Dispatchers in other states or countries need location information and then a way to send mission details to search and rescue teams. Historically, satellite locators and communication has been expensive but prices are slowly coming down. You can often get service for a short period of time and then put the service in “suspend mode” until needed again.
Satellite Communication Networks
There are two primarily two satellite networks available to consumers, GlobalStar and Iridium. These are also used by the US government but not likely on the same “channels” for security and reliability. The networks very in how they communicate and the coverage area available.
GlobalStar offers the SPOT device. It is a favorite because of the full size keyboard. To 99% of users the GlobalStar network is going to work well. However, when you are not in the coverage footprint, it is a complete no-go.
Garmin InReach and Zoleo utilize the Iridium constellation. Iridium offers better global coverage than GlobalStar but tends to run a little more expensive. Watch the video above for more details.
For search and rescue PubSafe would choose the SPOT or InReach. Zoleo’s mobile app and web app are not on par. Garmin and GlobalStar have been around for decades and offer a predictable service with a proven track record. Zoleo is an up and comer but until the provide easy forms of integration, it is a product for backpackers.
Read the Satellite Locator Video Transcript
…Hey everybody Eron from PubSafe today was going to talk about a couple of different types of satellite trackers EPRBs. If you will communicators of different types and talk a little bit about you know what goes into these and how are these pertinent to search and rescue We all know that anytime that there’s a major disaster cell phone communication goes down for at least a couple of days. And we have to try to figure out how do we communicate during that time period.
So what makes you know perhaps this unit better than this unit or different from you know this unit So I wanted to run through a couple of things that you may not know about these things I’m not going to get into technical specifications You can go online and read those. specific things, but I have used all of these devices and I have some opinions that…may provide a little bit of insight to help you and your team choose. Which one of these three devices or perhaps none of these devices are going to be the right fit for you So you may want to go out and look for something else, but let me start with talking about how these things communicate And once you understand that then you can kind of start to frame.
a decision on what’s going to work best for you. you know first of all any GPS device is is nothing but a receiver You know the GPS satellites are in the sky and they’re transmitting a beam. And if you think about like an FM radio station that you the radio in your car is a receiver and. FM radio station is beaming signals that your antenna in the vehicle picks up. Well that’s the same with GPS satellites They are beaming signals.
To a receiver. And when you get signals from multiple satellites then you’re able to triangulate to where the, you know the device is able to triangulate. The position of the device on the earth right? So you have to have at least three satellites and the more satellites the more accurate that you can get, the most of these devices will be accurate down to somewhere between one and. About 10 meters which is you know more than enough for, you know the type of search and rescue applications that we’re talking about.
Number two is you have to try to decide what you want to do. with the device
do you want to be able to send a lot of short messages? So something like this with this type of keyboard is going to be a lot easier than something with, no keyboard which means you have to you know do the old scroll up hit twice. You know there’s select different letters and numbers and things like that So it takes a lot longer to send messages off this. Almost all of these devices offer pre-configured messaging which is great. It shortens the texting you know the message creation time.
I can somewhat manage the data things of that nature. And you know with these two devices those messages are programmed onto or transferred onto the devices. Because these are standalone devices right There’s no mobile app necessarily but you do have to get the messages on there. Prior to going to the field. this device here app we’ll connect via Bluetooth to a mobile phone If you have the app and you can do some things back and forth that way, in addition to having a full functioning keyboard and other features So, you know this one gives you a lot of flexibility This one you have to hook to the computer before going out
I’m sure there are models where there’s Bluetooth and it connects to an app as well that you can transfer things but yeah that’s a bit of a process and then you have. You know this particular vice. for…which can operate standalone but you can see there’s no keyboard on it So if you want to do messaging you really have to have the mobile app on your mobile phone. And there are some pros and cons. To this device configuration as well.
But before we get into that let’s talk about how these devices communicate and what happens is they get information from the GPS satellites. And then if you want to send information to someplace else, You want to share your position with. Somebody through a map sharing link which all of these devices offer, or you want to send a message back Then you have to transmit from the device up to a satellite, which then routes the information back down to a dish And then that routes it to. you know a location online that becomes accessible or forwards an EA. or whatever Basically it goes from the satellite to a dish to the manufacturer based on the IME number of the device.
And then the manufacturer does whatever your account is set up to do I E maps share forward to SMS messaging or things of that nature for emergency contacts et cetera et cetera So.
The satellite communication piece is really important to understand First of all, I have seen in a medical emergency situation where somebody stood on it. Out in an open field in Colorado and had a sat phone and tried to make a phone call and it did not go through, right It just wouldn’t work. So you know the idea that you are 100% going to have communication is not true Right? Satellite communication is very sensitive to a line of sight. So where you can take your cell phone and you can talk inside your house.
because at towers you know maybe a mile two miles five miles away, you are not going to talk inside your house using a satellite telephone You have to have a direct line of sight to the sky. And when you are in vegetation that’s a problem. pine trees with the pine SAP and there are more restrictive than other types of, you know thin leaf materials that don’t have a lot of SAP. So there are. A variety of options that you can choose from.
but there are a lot of things that you need to understand about satellite communication.