Radios aid relief workers

Humanitarian organizations aiding tsunami victims can tune into news of inbound relief shipments on inexpensive satellite radios, thanks to a partnership between Raytheon and WorldSpace, a satellite radio broadcaster that serves markets outside North America.

Mike Fleenor, program manager for Raytheon's Mobile Enhanced Situational Awareness project, said the satellite radio system developed to aid humanitarian relief workers dealing with the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami could serve as the basis for a global tsunami warning system.

WorldSpace, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has a satellite in orbit that serves Asia and parts of the Middle East and another satellite that serves Africa and much of Europe with the same kind of premium audio programming provided in the United States by XM Satellite Radio Holdings. WorldSpace provides programming for XM Radio.

WorldSpace radios can be digitally addressed individually, Fleenor said, which serves as the basis for the alert service for aid workers in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. WorldSpace has distributed 100 of its receivers, which sell for about $130, to aid groups working in those countries, including the International Medical Corps and the Indonesia-based Nurani Dunia Foundation, Fleenor said.

Audiotapes targeted to each of the 100 aid workers are prepared with information on planned aid shipments, their contents and arrival times, Fleenor said. He added that the tapes also include information on possible disease outbreaks, a concern in tsunami disaster areas, many of which still lack potable water. The tapes also include short, area-specific news updates, Fleenor said.

The tapes are then transmitted to the satellite from a Raytheon-developed audio client management service center at WorldSpace's Singapore uplink and from the satellite down to the programmed receivers from the WorldSpace Asia satellite.

The WorldSpace satellites can also broadcast data streams at a rate of 128 kilobits/sec and have been used to support distance-learning programs in Africa. Fleenor said Raytheon and WorldSpace plan to explore how to use the data capabilities of the satellite system to transmit data to aid workers’ radios connected to laptops.

The addressability of the WorldSpace receivers make them ideal for an Indian Ocean or global tsunami warning system, Fleenor said, making it relatively easy to target warning information to relevant officials in countries in the path of a potential tsunami. Fleenor said Raytheon wants to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates tsunami warning centers in Alaska and Hawaii, to develop a global warning system.

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