Two workers from the Telenor Satellite Services Earth station in Southbury, Conn., returned home from Mississippi Sept. 22, where they had installed a satellite communications terminal for Hurricane Katrina relief workers and witnessed firsthand the effects of the storm.
Guy White, director of the Earth station, and Matthew Allard, a senior electronics technician at the facility, were amazed by the devastation they saw during their time in the Gulf Coast region.
“It was almost like a war zone,” said Allard, who had been stationed in Afghanistan in 2003. “There were boats in trees and houses physically twisted on their foundation.” The workers saw roads lined with abandoned cars and a bridge that had been completely washed away. They showered at Harrison County Jail, and dealt with primitive conditions, siphoning gas from their vehicle into another car in exchange for a roll of wire, for example.
“We were desperate to get home,” White said.
The area where they were stationed grew in scope, at first housing about 100 workers and growing to house around 1,500. “It was a mini city before we left,” White said.
White and Allard brought down a Nera DVB-RCS SatLink communications system and a C-band phone system to provide Internet and voice services via satellite at a logistics and distribution center at Camp Barron Point, located inside Camp Shelby, a mobilization center for the Mississippi National Guard. Mississippi relief workers must report to the camp before being deployed into the field, White said.
The DVB-RCS — or Digital Video Broadcast, Return Channel Satellite — system consisted of a kiosk with two phones and two Internet-equipped computers. It was used by Los Padres National Forest employees, who were aiding in the relief effort, at the station, located near Hattiesburg. The C-band system coordinated communications for approximately 50 phones, White said.
The equipment, which was still in the testing phase at the Southbury facility, was brought to the camp Sept. 11. “It was a live-fire test, without a doubt,” White joked. Telenor secured a temporary Federal Communications Commission license before bringing the equipment to the workers.
The unit originally was slated for a North Carolina hospital which already had equipment by the time Telenor arrived, White said.
When the workers returned to Southbury, they sent another worker to replace them, who will remain in case any problems develop with the communications devices.
“He’ll be there until they don’t need him anymore,” White said. “It may be a month, it may be six months.”