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Case study: UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme

Enterprise

Inmarsat works with UK Space Agency and the Philippine Government to enhance disaster relief capacity 

 

Programme overview

The UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) is a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with governments and organisations in emerging and developing economies around the world to deliver a sustainable economic or societal benefit. All IPP projects are fully aligned to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.

Inmarsat has been awarded IPP funding for three projects which began in 2017. This case study covers our project in the Philippines, which aims to reduce the impact of natural disasters by using satellite communications.

Executive summary

The 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines are regularly subjected to natural disasters because of their vulnerability to the natural hazards that are prevalent in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Cyclones are common, occurring over 20 times a year, while earthquakes, although less frequent, can be highly destructive.

Terrestrial communications often fail, especially in large-scale disasters, mostly due to the destruction of a network’s physical components or its supporting infrastructure. This can be extremely detrimental to disaster response operations due to their dependence on fixed and mobile networks to coordinate their actions. Furthermore, the reliance on communications is growing because of the tools and systems used in disaster response.

To address this, the IPP project is supporting the Philippine government, through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, in improving their emergency communications system by providing them with a complete satellite connectivity solution for disaster response. The project delivers the latest equipment that can provide the best and fastest connectivity while also being highly mobile and portable.

The solution to the emergency communications issue was to deploy Inmarsat’s high-speed Global Xpress service along with BGAN mobile broadband terminals and IsatPhone 2 handheld satellite phones to five regions in the Philippines chosen for their vulnerability to disasters. The project was first implemented in the Bicol region, the most exposed to natural hazards. Other kits were subsequently deployed to Eastern Visayas, Socksargen, and the Cordilleras, with Mimaropa due to come online in August 2018.

The primary objective is to provide immediate emergency communications to responders of all levels in the area of operations. The deployment at the regional level also reduces their dependency on national assets. Consequently, the rapid delivery of communications should improve response times of government operators and survivorship of the affected population.

Conclusions

To date the IPP Philippines project has been able to demonstrate to the DSWD in real life situations that resilient, flexible and easily deployable satellite communications enables:

  • The ability to quickly deploy digital technologies in the most difficult situations.
  • A faster initial response – the ability to provide instant situational reports rather than paper documents being transported to the nearest local centre with communications access, meaning help can be directed faster to the points of need.
  • Reliable connectivity – terrestrial communications were up and running in all the situations outlined with the exception of Tembin, where they were restored the day after the storm passed. However, the unreliability and capacity of fixed and mobile communication networks, especially in remote areas in the Philippines, remains a challenge to responders. They need a more dependable form of communication and the satellite terminals provided to the responders delivered this essential requirement.

In addition, satellite connectivity can improve the efficiency of post-event activity, such as enabling the faster processing of individual families’ needs – this will be tested in the second half of 2018/early 2019.