How do you set up emergency networks to coordinate disaster relief?



Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) is the world’s leading international NGO specialising in technology and telecommunications for humanitarian crises of all kinds.

After two devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean in 2017, TSF established emergency telecoms networks to coordinate disaster relief across the area.

When Hurricane Irma hit the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy in September 2017, there was widespread destruction of property and infrastructure. In Saint Martin, there were many fatalities, several hundred wounded, 25% of houses were destroyed and 40% damaged. TSF's principal objective was to get the airport functioning and enable the coordination of relief operations across the island. In Saint Barthélemy, the population was without communications and TSF had to create an emergency satellite-based Wi-Fi network to allow people to reconnect with loved ones, and enable general emergency relief operations.

To make matters worse, a second Category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Maria, hit the same area just over a week later and TSF had to create another emergency Wi-Fi network. This time it was on Dominica, where 73,000 people were cut off from the rest of the world as 90% of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed in less than 24 hours. TSF worked closely with its partners, including Eutelsat, to provide relief to the area and quickly set up communications links via satellite.


Satellite connections prove a core part of the operations

Satellite technology is at the core of TSF’s emergency interventions.

Providing humanitarian responders with satellite connectivity, they are better able to face the logistical challenges of the disaster and improve their response to the crisis.

Satellite-based connectivity also enables the affected populations to contact relatives, access information on the situation, and strengthen their resilience

When Hurricane Maria hit Dominica, the telecoms infrastructure was severely affected. GSM antennas were destroyed. Landslides removed portions of the underground interconnection network. MNO generators were submerged, and there was destruction at the arrival point of the Eastern Caribbean Fiber System (ECFS).

Satellite connections were the only solution to re-establish a means of sharing information between emergency responders, the Government and the population. Indeed, in some parts of Dominica, the mobile networks were not restored for five months after the hurricane, and the satellite solutions provided a crucial link.


Eutelsat provides crucial services to TSF

Since 2007, Eutelsat has worked closely with TSF on disaster relief operations throughout the world. Whenever TSF deploys in the field, we put our resources behind them to help establish critical telecom links.

For the Caribbean response, we provided Fixed Satellite Services with VSAT terminals for two-way communications in all the islands. The mobile, compact equipment requires very little technical training, so was easy to use by TSF operators, as it is almost plug-and-play once prepared for deployment.

The Eutelsat fleet has coverage right across the world, with several satellites directly serving the Caribbean. For the hurricane crisis, TSF used our EUTELSAT 12 West B satellite, which provides connectivity from the area directly to North and South America and also to Europe, with both uplink and downlink communications in Ku-band.


Supporting relief operations and reconnecting populations

TSF initiatives supported incoming relief and national coordination, as well as providing communications for the communities affected. During the three-month period after the hurricanes, they enabled communications for nearly 8000 unique users.

In Saint Martin, TSF connected the Airport Operations Centre, enabling the general functioning of the airport and logistical management of freight items. In particular, this allowed relief items, emergency response equipment and food to be dispatched. They also installed a VSAT terminal at the office of the Dutch Red Cross, allowing them to co-ordinate their relief operations, using a total of 76 GB of data.

Wi-Fi hotspots using a satellite internet connection were installed on the islands of Saint Barthélemy and Dominica, in districts with no other means of communication at that time. These connections enabled communities to reconnect with families through VoIP, social networks or instant messaging, provided a means for people to obtain essential information on the situation, and enabled the towns to share information and help commence restoration.

In the Dominican town of Portsmouth, TSF deployed a satellite internet connection to allow the town’s inhabitants to contact relatives and organise assistance. In the first 24 hours following the installation, over 300 families had already registered on the network, representing almost one third of the town’s population. Bennette Thomas, Director of Telecommunications at the Dominican Ministry of Information commented, “On behalf of the Honourable Prime Minister, members of the cabinet, the Government of Dominica expresses its deepest gratitude to Télécoms Sans Frontières”.


Eutelsat’s support is essential to our work. Over the years its technology has been vital in helping us respond to over 90 missions, especially in emergencies such as Hurricane Irma or during the migration crisis in Europe and the Middle East.

But even more important, is the mutual trust that exists between us. Our 11 years of partnership has proven that Eutelsat is behind TSF in every situation, from supporting our disaster response projects, to our capacity building and our bridging the digital divide programmes.

We are very proud of this long-term relationship and we have no doubt that, along with Eutelsat’s support, TSF will continue to use the latest technology to improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people for many more years.

Monique Lanne-Petit, Director and co-founder of TSF