I recently read an article describing an initiative deployed by the British Columbia government, wherein each of its senior officials was supplied with a satellite phone in case conventional methods of communication go down in a disaster situation. This initiative was driven by a failed earthquake-scenario emergency exercise. The B.C. government ordered 30 Globalstar GSP-17000 satellite phones, which have a minimum 4-hour talk time, as well as text messaging and internet access capability.
The article was unique because it dove deep into the idiosyncrasies of satellite phones (as well as the details of the B.C. government’s emergency plan). For example, providing user instructions is extremely important when it comes to satellite phones, because they tend to be more complicated to use than your typical smart phone. In the case of the B.C. government, these instructions were provided to each senior official in the form of a tip sheet.
The tips on each tip sheet include instructions to fully extend the phone’s antenna, at an angle, for optimal reception – specifically, the phones “must be able to see the orbiting satellites from 8.2 degrees above the horizon.” The tip sheet also mentions that the phones must be used outside, away from tall buildings and dense vegetation, and recommends going to the “highest and clearest point available” for optimal reception. In addition to the detailed instructions, the Deputy Minister in charge of Emergency Preparedness will be executing an annual 3-hour satellite phone exercise / drill so users can practice using the devices.
For electric, gas and water utilities, utilizing satellite phones for drills is probably not feasible. That said, detailed information on these devices should be included in emergency plans, and potential users should at least be trained on their usage in a classroom setting.