Sat comms aid Mississippi recovery efforts

A Virginia-based satellite technology company is lending Mississippi’s public safety department a mobile communications trailer equipped with computers and voice over IP-enabled phones to aid hurricane relief and recovery efforts.

A spokesman for Segovia, which bills itself as the first global satellite network to support IP communications, said the trailer is en route to Gulfport, Miss., which is one of the areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and should be operating by this weekend, if not before. He said the company contacted Gov. Haley Barbour’s office, which accepted the company’s offer.

The trailer will provide broadband Internet access and IP telephones for 20 people, but it can handle as many as 250 people, the spokesman said. The company is picking up all of the state’s phone charges and will have two technicians on site for at least three weeks.

“The infrastructure there is pretty badly battered,” said Segovia’s spokesman. “It’s a need that Mississippi has, and they’re very happy to have it as long as they need it.”

He added Segovia officials are also talking with Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) office to arrange the loan of a similar communications trailer to Louisiana public safety officials.

Katrina has wiped out much of the communications infrastructure in the region. Teams of rescue workers are bringing in their own radio systems, satellite phones and other equipment because landlines are down. A number have similar mobile communications trailers equipped with satellite service.

At least 35 sites across the Gulf Coast are using the satellite network built by Segovia, which is a major provider of satellite communications for the military in post-war Iraq. The Army Corps of Engineers has 16 sites, while the Air National Guard has five and the Homeland Security Department has two. The Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Fort Polk, La., is also using Segovia’s service.

“The interesting thing here is that our network is built, frankly, for this exact kind of situation where you need broadband [communications] where there’s no infrastructure and, in some cases, no power,” said Kirby Farrell, executive vice president of sales and marketing and a co-founder of the company.

Farrell said the company provides all of the corps’ communications throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and in central and southwest Asia. It also provides communications support to the corps’ first responder teams in all 50 states and four territories.

Once Katrina hit, he said, the corps, which has several large trailers equipped with computers, local-area networks and other technology, almost immediately deployed those vehicles into the devastated areas.

“It’s a moving office,” Farrell said. “One of those vans goes, and they just point their dish at the sky, and it probably takes them 20 minutes to find the satellite [and] right into the Army Corps network.”

Similar to what Segovia provided Mississippi, the corps’ satellite-equipped trailers provides two dozen employees with IP telephony and broadband Internet access.

In Iraq, Segovia supports the corps, Army Space Command and the Army’s Combat Service Support Satellite Communications network. In 2003, the company built 175 Internet cafes in Iraq to allow soldiers to make calls using voice-over-IP phones at about 4 cents per minute, reducing it from the previous rate of $1 per minute.

“About 20 million minutes a month of VOIP traffic comes across our network from Iraq,” Farrell said.

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