Communications Satellites Ready to Serve Texas Schools During Hurricane Season

HOUSTON – As school begins and hurricane season continues, two satellites on wheels are on call to assist Texas school districts as Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) readies its mobile incident command center to restore communications.

The purpose of the portable, emergency satellite system on wheels is to assist districts in regaining control of communications when disaster strikes.

“With the possibility of Hurricane Dean touching Texas, many organizations are on full alert,” said Arthur Vu, instructional technology project manager for Harris County Department of Education. “HCDE Technology and the Center for Safe and Secure Schools have made substantial investments in a reliable emergency satellite communications system to support school districts that may find themselves in such a need.”

Center for Safe and Secure Schools Director Karl Boland says the systems were purchased last year by HCDE and provide satellite phone and Internet capabilities when districts are crippled by communications woes caused by natural disaster or even school violence incidents. The systems include the satellite, managed through a 16-foot, walk-in trailer, which doubles as a response center. The mobile center is powered by electricity or a diesel fuel generator.

“Upon request, the satellites on wheels are available to be brought to school district emergency centers, and in less than 15 minutes districts have both phone and Internet access up and running,” Vu explained.

The remote system may be sent out in response to natural disasters such as the imposing Hurricane Dean or other threats like school shootings. In the event of a terrorist threat or school shooting like Columbine, the service could be used to assist with the coordination of first responders, says Boland, also a law enforcement veteran.

“While HCDE is being proactive by purchasing the system, the true purpose is to react to disaster, when needed, by the school districts we serve,” Boland said. “During disasters, landline and cellular phone systems within school districts become saturated and can essentially shut down with the burden of overload. This service can overcome that problem.”

The satellite-trailer system valued at about $100,000 was purchased by HCDE and is powered by a contract between HCDE and the Broadpoint Company, which provides satellite service to the Mobile Incident Command System. Districts throughout Texas would be nominally charged for the services in the event it is dispatched. In cases of natural disaster, FEMA could possibly reimburse the impacted school districts for use of the system, depending on the nature of the disaster.

For more information about the satellite communications system, call Jim Schul, executive director of Harris County Department of Education Technology at (713) 696-1300 or the Center for Safe and Secure Schools at (713) 696-0770.


HCDE press release

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