Emergency Communications for Hurricane Response Teams

Updated: 9.19.2023

What started as an expected normal storm year as predicted by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, quickly changed to an above-normal outlook. In mid-August officials re-forcasted expected storm activity to a 60% chance of an above-normal storm season. This is double the original likelihood of a 30% chance. With the current predictions, emergency response teams should brace for up to 5 major hurricanes this season. 

Making it ever so important for Emergency Communications Hurricane Response Teams to be ready at a moment’s notice. Continue reading for vital information to ensure your team’s communications systems are ready and robust.  

Communications for Before, During, and After the Storm

When a hurricane is imminent, your team needs to be prepared. Now is the time to think about your communication strategy- not once the storm is upon you. While cell phones will work great before the storm hits, your team will be flying blind once cell towers are either inundated or made inoperable by the storm. By thinking ahead, you can make sure your team has the equipment to stay in touch and continue your first response efforts.

Preparing Communications Systems for a Hurricane

While your team has full access to cell phones and terrestrial phone lines, you must prepare for the next two phases of the storm. Be sure to order your flyaway satellite antenna well in advance to prevent any delivery issues. If you wait, you may miss your window for the rental unit to be delivered before the storm hits. Even if you do request your satellite rental with enough time to be delivered, you may have requested after other nearby departments that are also in the way of the storm. There is a potential for a depleted flyaway rental fleet. As a general rule, don’t leave anything up to chance- request your rental early.

Configuring a rental antenna to support Hurricane Henri relief efforts

Before the storm is also when you’ll want to test all of your equipment and ensure that your team is on the same page. Storms can be chaotic, especially when main communication lines go down. Check all of your equipment to make sure it all works correctly, and teach your team how to use anything they are not familiar with. Think about other supporting resources- batteries, chargers, gasoline, and the like. Where are these reserves, and does everyone on your team know where they are? The more planning and communication you put into the time before the storm, the smoother the process once the storm hits.

The Best Satellite Phones for Hurricane Response

As a general rule, your team will want the toughest satellite phones with the longest battery life. Ease of use is also an important feature. Most emergency response teams that we work with go with the Iridium Extreme PTT, a satellite phone that is regarded as one of the most resilient on the market. Boasting a battery life of up to 54 hours standby time and operating on the trusted Iridium network, the Iridium Extreme PTT is an excellent choice for most teams. Best of all it’s design is reminiscent to old cell phones (think early 2000’s Nokia) so the whole team should have a very low learning curve.

Iridium Extreme satelllite phone
The Iridium Extreme PTT

Satellite Internet for Hurricane Response

There are three main options for emergency response satellite systems depending on the needs and budget of your organization. Flyaway antennas, mobile (vehicle-mounted) satellite antennas, and emergency communications trailers are all excellent choices for keeping connected during a hurricane or weather event. Whichever option you choose, remember that it all falls apart if you do not have the proper training on your equipment.

Hurricane Response Flyaway Satellite Antennas

Flyaway satellite antennas are great for teams that need a temporary hotspot until primary communication lines are back up. If your team wants the ability to avoid a large upfront cost, a flyaway rental unit will be best for you. Rentals are best for very occasional use, while buying a flyaway satellite system is best for more frequent use. With either option, you will have an easy-to-use system for keeping your team connected while all other communications lines are down.

Mobile Satellite Antennas

Mobile satellite antennas are great if you have a primary vehicle or trailer that you team uses for emergency response operations. The antenna can be mounted to the roof of the vehicle and deployed with the touch of a button. Unlike a flyaway system, the mobile antenna will not require any more setup or configuration when it is needed. Mobile antennas are the simplest to use, though do require the upfront cost of buying the antenna (rentals are not an option) and cannot be moved from place to place without moving the entire vehicle it is mounted to.

Expedition Communications provides roof-mounted antennas from AVL, C-COM, Winegard, and our own DataSat brand

Disaster Response Emergency Communications Trailers

The final option is an emergency communications trailer, a comprehensive system that combines cellular internet and satellite internet into a reliable customizable trailer. The smallest option is the ECT-LITE, but other trailers include full internal workstations such as the ECT-14 and the ECT-20. These trailers comprise the best in emergency response, creating a central location for all emergency communications duties for your team. VoIP phone lines, camera systems, awnings, and mast systems are just a few of the possible customizations. When deciding what kind of trailer you need, think about the ways that your team will need to use the trailer. If you need help weighing your options, our team is happy to help discuss with you to find the best trailer for your needs.



Should Cellular be Included in a Hurricane Response Strategy?

Yes, but carefully. Remember that once the storm hits, the cellular infrastructure is likely to take serious damage. While the major cellular networks are getting better at quickly setting up Cell On Wheels trailers (or COWs for short) to get cellular internet back to a disaster-struck area, there is still a period of downtime after the storm when cellular is not available. We recommend including a high-powered cellular router such as a Pepwave MAX HD2 or a Pepwave MAX Transit Duo to complement your satellite internet system. When cellular is down you’ll be covered, but once it is back up you will be able to transition quickly using the same equipment.

The Pepwave MAX HD2

Best Communications Equipment for Hurricane Response Efforts

The best equipment for you will determine on the unique needs of your team, but there are some general recommendations we can make. First, whatever equipment you decide to use, commit to it. Make sure your entire team can use the equipment adequately, and make sure it is ready to go in case of an emergency. Ensure that gasoline reserves, extra batteries, and similar resources are ready as well.

For satellite phones, we recommend the Iridium Extreme PTT. For satellite internet antennas, we recommend either a flyaway satellite antenna or a mobile satellite antenna. Though all of the brands we provide are trustworthy, we recommend AVL satellite antennas for post-hurricane conditions because they perform the best in windy conditions. If your team’s needs are more comprehensive, an emergency communications trailer can be built for you to include satellite internet, cellular internet, multiple workstations, and about anything else your team may need.

Ultimately, it all comes down to preparation. The work you put in before the storm will make all the difference once the storm hits.

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