Fifteen minutes. That’s all it took for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) to get up and running on the ground in southern Indiana on the evening of March 2. Earlier that day, tornadoes had ripped through the area, causing widespread devastation, property loss and crippling communications failures.
IDHS rolled into the small town of Henryville in the early evening hours that same day with its 35-foot incident response vehicle (IRV) equipped with a Skycasters VSAT (very small aperture terminal) System. Roughly 15 minutes later, the first responders in the area had phone and data connectivity where none would exist for another two or three days through conventional ground-based communication methods.
Soon thereafter, IDHS held a videoconference with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Indianapolis and began feeding video, photos and firsthand accounts of the destruction back to the command center. The process of rebuilding shattered lives was well underway in about the time it takes to eat dinner at your local fast food establishment.
A second portable unit was dispatched to Clark County’s temporary EOC, and lines of communication were quickly established for the emergency crews working in that area as well.
Amazingly, the only training for most of the personnel involved in the operation came in a planned IDHS exercise earlier that very same day. That ease of use gives new meaning to the term “user friendly.”
None of this technology may have been available to IDHS were it not for the flooding that took place in the state in the spring of 2008. Due to damage to the existing communications network, IDHS responders on the ground were unable to communicate back to the EOC.
Fortuitously, the solution was already in place in a location you’d least expect: the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. At the urging of the Indiana Office of Technology (IOT), the BMV had purchased a Skycasters portable system to establish a secure link back to the main office as a means of processing registration and licenses at remote locations.
In June of 2008, that same technology was put into play at a Homeland Security exercise in which 15 IP phones and 35 laptops were connected flawlessly via a Skycasters VSAT system. Then, in 2011, IDHS utilized its 53-foot mobile command center (MCC) to provide surveillance as part of the security plan implemented for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Final Four held at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Just this past February, the MCC was put in place at a remote location to effectively relocate the EOC during Super Bowl XLVI. Due to the fact that the state government campus location is just a mere two blocks from the stadium, it was deemed necessary to “move” the EOC as part of the preparedness plans should an attack occur at the stadium.
These successful deployments gave IDHS the confidence that its Skycasters based communications solution would stand up in any number of difficult situations. Little did they know, it would be put to the test less than a month later in tornado-ravaged southern Indiana.
Luckily for the residents of Henryville and other locales, help came from the same sky that just hours earlier had turned day into night and spawned the devastating funnel clouds. Help came in the form of the first responders who were able to communicate quickly and effectively in no small part due to the technology provided to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security by Skycasters.
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