Equipment / Connectivity
• Handheld Radios
Team members operating away from base camp will be issued a Motorola GP380 analog radio. These radios are the UN standard and are also used by partner NGOs such as NetHope. Using a standard radio will ensure the ability to operate seamlessly on internal, UN or other NGO radio channels. Team members must perform a radio check before departing from base camp. Groups should travel with at least two radios and one spare charged battery. Ideally, every team member will be assigned a personal radio. The UN’s Emergency Telecom Cluster staff, which is typically from the World Food Program, can reprogram the GP380 radios to support UN channels.The UN is currently evaluating digital radios. We'll alter our specifications as the UN makes their decisions.
• Blue-Force Tracking
All groups operating in the field should have at least one DeLorme InReach or InReach SE with them. The InReach is a compact satellite-based communication device that requires line of sight to the sky, but does not require any directional pointing. It only works outdoors, but it functions globally and is able to sync with handheld Apple and Android devices to provide two-way text messaging capabilities over satellite to both email and phone text message (SMS) users. The Enterprise version of the service plan that we have enables web access to a console map display showing the location of all deployed devices. The devices also have an emergency button that can send an immediate alert to either the enterprise console or to a global search and rescue coordination center. Once activated, a monitoring center receives continuous location tracking information on the user.
Based upon risk assessments by the team leader, instructions may be given that InReach devices must be attached to team members' bodies at all times in the event they must quickly depart an area without backpacks or other gear.
InReach can be used for both routine team communications (e.g., notification of arrival, requests for resources, meeting alerts) and emergency alerts.
• Cell Service
International roaming charges can be expensive. If cellular networks are operational and you wish to use roaming on your personal cell phone, you will not be reimbursed unless you have approval from Eric or Alex. We recommend that you include an unlocked GSM phone in your personal deployment kit so that a local SIM can be purchased and installed. Not all GSM phones support all global frequency bands, so we also recommend that you look for a phone that can accommodate as many GSM frequency bands as possible.
Since smartphones also support WiFi, we will try to provide a WiFi hotspot at base camp. However, it is required that phones have auto-update features turned off before they can be used over base camp hotspots. The same holds true for personal laptops or tablets. Bandwidth is limited and can be costly. Audio and video streaming not required for the mission can be a violation of humanitarian response principles and is strictly prohibited without permission.
• Satcom - BGAN
Whenever possible, the team will deploy with an Inmarsat or Thuraya BGAN IP device. These devices are extremely portable—they fit in a backpack—and provide between 300kbps and 500kbps of peak bandwidth. They are suitable for basic email or other text communications upon arrival in-country and also for use by mobile teams since they can be set up in minutes on the hood of a vehicle. They are not suitable for media-rich content since service providers charge by volume of data transferred. They should only be used only for essential low-bandwidth content. Make sure all auto-update and software download functions are turned off. If it appears that your inbox has an email with a large attachment, please stop any inbox synchronization and switch to a webmail interface without offline sync.
• Satcom - VSAT
VSAT terminals are larger than BGANs, but can provide anywhere from 500kbps to 20Mbps of bandwidth. When possible, we will try to obtain access to bandwidth on a VSAT terminal. This may mean deploying our own VSAT (either procured before departure, en route or from a local provider), but ideally it will involve sharing resources with other organizations operating at the same location. Many of the use restrictions necessary when operating on BGAN systems can be relaxed when operating on a VSAT as it supports more users, provides more bandwidth,and does not incur volume utilization charges.
• Local Service Providers
Ideally, neither BGANs nor VSATs will be necessary and we will be to access internet connectivity from a local service provider. This both minimizes the costs to our organization and supports the very people we are there to help. If requested and mission priorities permit it, we may lend our expertise to local service providers as well.
There are many great apps and other communications software tools available. We are not seeking to be on the bleeding edge, but rather looking for stability, consistency, reliability, familiarity and ubiquity. At this time, Skype is the optimal choice for ubiquitous chat, voice and video communication. That does not mean it is the best software or most efficient choice, but simply that it is the best option when balancing bandwidth use, compatible devices and the deployed user-base within the humanitarian sector. In their support for the humanitarian sector, Skype has released a low-bandwidth version of its software. Team members are asked to create Skype accounts and install the software on all devices with which they plan to deploy. There is no restriction on installing additional software such as VSee to communicate with other stakeholders, however there may be bandwidth restrictions so please check with Eric or Alex before using.
Team members are also asked to download the DeLorme Earthmate app (iOS / Android) on mobile devices prior to deployment to avoid having to download it in the field. Be sure to download relevant offline maps.
Team members are asked to monitor email while deployed in order to obtain updates from the team and from partner humanitarian organizations. It is important to have access to email in a bandwidth-challenged environment (e.g., a webmail interface) as well as the ability to shut off the auto-download for email attachments.
• Information Security
Team members are responsible for installing adequate firewalls, intrusion protection and anti-virus software on all personal mobile devices. Please make sure any software updates are current. We will likely be operating on a shared network and one infected or compromised device can impact everyone and possibly even the mission. If your device becomes a problem, you may be asked not to connect it to the network at all.
We may deploy to locations where public knowledge of the precise location of our team could compromise safety. Such information can be inadvertently be published through location tags in photographs and geolocation information on social media posts. You may be asked to disable these features. It is extremely important that you understand how such features work on your devices and apps before deployment. But don't worry— if it's not completely clear to you we'll help.
When using a device over an open WiFi hotspot, it is good practice to use a VPN of some kind, whether through your company or via a commercial provider such as WiTopia. Although use of VPN software is not required when deployed, given the ease at which information can be stolen, it is the smart thing to do. If you need help, we can teach you how to use a VPN on your own devices.
The Disaster Response Team will begin its work by assembling at one or more staging areas outside of disaster zone to discuss the situation with other organizations who have been working the area and review UNDAC assessments and grid testing data. This information will help shape a deployment-specific comms plan, which will include capabilities to facilitate communications among local organizations. It will also inform our selection of a base camp location.
The ability to communicate is mission critical. Communications capabilities take many forms and fulfill a variety roles, including:
• Communication between team members
• Team logistics coordination with support elements
• Access to external support resources such as our own water purification systems
• Coordination with other deployed organizations including the UN response agencies, US DoD and NetHope
• Communication with local organizations
• Access to social media for situational awareness and public communications
• Personal welfare reporting:
Blue-force tracking and emergency notification
The team should plan on being fully independent of host nation infrastructure for at least the first 72 hours and potentially for the entire deployment. Our secondary mission, of course, is to perform Rapid Telecommunications Assessments.