Some options for enhancing cellular type communications capabilities in the wake of a major event such as a storm are looking at network priority access , improved SMS or other messaging delivery, and alternate back-up solutions in case of a loss of all power and tel-co.
Satellite phones are great as a backup for the right situation. During Katrina and other hurricanes I was most often unable to connect or dropped continuously due to heavy cloud cover that broke the communications link with the satellites. So in these cases it is still a good idea to plan for improved terrestrial access and priority, messaging, and off network backup communications alternatives. Just like there are many different flavors of ice cream, and we all have our favorites, it can get even more complicated when you start discussing what toppings you want as well. So I will keep this to the plain vanilla with no toppings discussion for communications.
There is the GETS (Government Emergency Telecommunications Service)/TSP/WPS/SHARE card that you can get through http://ncs.gov/ that can provide a higher level of prioritization and access to both cellular and wire-line networks.
Increasing your prioritization level just one level will give you carrier access in front of over 90% of the rest of the consumer grade network traffic.
Over 80% (swag number) of organizations Business Continuity and Disaster Preparedness teams that I have worked with do not address this network prioritization access issue.
Most carriers also have their own in house network priority access programs as well for disaster preparedness teams, so ask about “Network Priority Access”. If your sales rep does not know (not a common discussion topics for many of them) get information directly from your service providers web site or seek out a specialist in this area with the carrier/service provider.
As the networks become congested due to a logarithmic growth in traffic, Improving priority access on any network is key to emergency communications network availability.
Carriers have other special programs such as Sprint’s Enterprise Gateway Messenger which will allow you to connect directly with the carrier Enterprise Gateway Messaging platform through an aggregator. This will “white list” your domain so that your texts do not get filtered as SPAM, and the direct connection into the gateway messaging backbone of the carrier increases your likelihood of getting your messages delivered quickly when you need them to be delivered the most. The Sprint Enterprise Gateway Messaging solution allows for web access and an API that allows you to create groups and send messages directly from MS Outlook to cellular devices.
Off Network Communications:
All networks are susceptible to mass power and tel-co outages. A major event will take out both commercial, private, and government radio systems alike. No network is impervious to mass power and tel-co outages. Some may fair a little better, and some may stay up a little longer, but ultimately all are susceptible. Proper network planning, design, and disaster recovery solution planning. Many older Nextel radios that are getting decommissioned also have an off network feature called “Direct Talk”. You can keep some of these older radios around or pick some up cheap from a recycler or EBAY as a second, third, or fourth tier back up solution in case all power and tel-co are down due to a major event. These Motorola “Direct Talk” capable off network radios can talk for up to 6 miles. They are also Mil Spec rated as well. They work great for localized emergency communications. You can use them with a Raytheon ACU-M to daisy chain communications footprint overlaps, or connect to other communications networks as well. The ACU-M can be mounted in a vehicle or just plugged into an AC or DC vehicle plug for power.