Back to blog
First Responders Inmarsat Portable Satellite VSAT

June 21, 2023

Why Connectivity Is Critical To Emergency Response Management

According to a recent poll by Gallop, one-third of Americans have faced extreme weather including hurricanes and blizzards, in recent years. In many respects, it’s surprising this figure isn’t higher. The United Nations (UN) reported a 153% increase in the number of extreme weather events in the last 20 years. And it’s clear the US has been significantly impacted, with 20 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2021 alone.

NOAA is – fortunately – projecting an average hurricane season in 2023, due to the dampening effect of El Nino, but equally the Atlantic is unusually warm, which could counteract this effect. Of course even a below-average hurricane season can be deadly. And while the West Coast might be spared hurricanes, it’s increasingly vulnerable to wildfires. The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook projects a higher risk than normal for large stretches of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Montana (California’s snowpack may spare it the worst of the 2023 wildfires). Meanwhile, Canada’s wildfires are making global headlines, with millions of Canadians and Americans affected.

Given the significant impact just one of these events can have, we want to highlight why connectivity is so important during the emergency response.

Why is connectivity essential during an emergency response?

First responders don’t know what situation they’re stepping into. To ensure organizations can manage their response, safeguard their personnel and rapidly disseminate information to other relevant agencies and teams on the ground, connectivity certainty and thus communication certainty, is essential. Included below are some of the most common use cases our First Responder customers require and utilize our connectivity solutions for:

  • Mapping and GPS data
  • Access to GIS data – essential data regarding property and ownership, and MSDS sheets – delivering potentially life-saving information on material safety.
  • Personnel and equipment tracking. Tracking the real-time location of every personnel member on the ground, in addition to equipment and assets, including emergency vehicles and helicopters, can all save invaluable time.
  • Communication, including via the Red Phone Emergency Responder Voice Network. Enabling organizations and personnel to communicate via voice, email or even radio, with one another and with the Command Center, and disseminate information to other relevant Public Safety agencies.
  • Monitor local news coverage. Making certain teams aren’t missing anything news outlets may have picked up on.
  • Report and document response and progress. For example, the progress of a wildfire.
  • Drone video backhaul. Utilizing connectivity to control and live stream video via drones to provide real-time information to those on the ground.


Mobile Satellite Internet for First Responders

Since satellite services connect with an orbiting satellite at least 550km above the Earth’s surface, they are not affected by cellular dead-zones or terrestrial infrastructure failure (temporary or otherwise), meaning satellite can deliver connectivity certainty.

Based on our 20 years’ experience working with corporations and public agencies, we know that not everyone will have a backup plan in place which caters for a situation without terrestrial connectivity. We’re well versed in the typical hurricane narrative: hurricane season begins, storms begin to form out at sea, concerned organizations begin to call us for information and lead times on satellite communication hardware… then storms pass or die out and all is forgotten. Or, as is more often the case in recent years, the aforementioned storms continue.

In all cases, the Ground Control team work as hard as possible to ensure agencies have confirmed delivery of the required, satellite-enabled equipment prior to any hurricane, tornado, wildfire, or other extreme weather event. But there are occasions, particularly when there has been a larger scale disaster, where shipping may be delayed or temporarily suspended, or even scaling hardware to meet demand is a challenge. As the number and severity of extreme weather events is increasing, we want to ensure all organizations can confidently mitigate risk, whatever the situation.

Professional Grade Mobile Internet

Introducing The Toughsat

Our Toughsat products are often used by emergency services that need a quick and portable VSAT antenna for both high-speed internet and VoIP phone services for on-site personnel.

Toughsat XP is Ground Control’s flagship professional series mobile satellite system, incorporating the best of our experience into a complete system. At the click of a button, the solution provides the speeds and bandwidth needed for robust Internet and communications, making it the perfect in-field communications solution.

The Toughsat XP delivers connectivity for up to 256 wireless capable devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops or VoIP phones. Your team can be online in minutes, with 20 Mbps x 5 Mbps broadband internet speeds, worldwide. What’s more, the powerful broadband WiFi hotspot operates even in extreme weather conditions.

Ground Control’s emergency communications satellite equipment meets or complies with all SAFECOM requirements for emergency interoperable communication equipment. The Toughsat is also the only VSAT antenna listed by make and model in the US FEMA Cache list.

Comparing the Toughsat to a Starlink Device

Both the Toughsat (which utilizes the iDirect satellite airtime service – see special rates for first responders) and Starlink provide emergency responders with high speed, low latency internet access from anywhere with a clear view of the sky – there’s no dependency on terrestrial networks.

Both physical devices are ruggedized, and will stand up to a wide range of weather conditions, from extreme cold and heat to heavy rain and gale force winds. Neither the Toughsat nor the Standard Starlink is intended for use in-motion (if you have a requirement for high-speed internet while in-motion, we would recommend the Kymeta u8 or the MissionLINK 700).

Starlink devices are often low cost in comparison to other satellite internet hardware. Starlink doesn’t invite other manufacturers to build hardware to connect to the Starlink satellite constellation, and its intentionally disruptive business model is to sell directly to members of the public, undercutting incumbents like HughesNet and Viasat.

However, that last point provides a segue to a potential drawback of the Starlink service: it is extremely popular, and can be prone to network congestion. “The demand for Starlink service is outpacing the capacity of the network” according to, further noting that “you may notice your speeds slow way down… caused by too many Starlink customers trying to connect at the same time.”

For Emergency Responders this is a key potential risk to be aware of when deciding on your portable satellite solution. Other solutions – Toughsat among them – have dedicated airtime for emergency responders, guaranteeing reliable internet speeds irrespective of how much other traffic is utilizing the network. They cost more, but don’t face the network congestion challenges of Starlink.

Get in touch

If you'd like to know more, and discuss your requirements, please get in touch. We have 20 years' of experience and have served hundreds of emergency responders in that time. We design and build our own hardware, but we also partner with other leading manufacturers to make sure we have the best option for your needs.