Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Listen to the radio - the emergency broadcasting network

future blog post regarding the significance of getting vital information to people in a vast disaster zone when all other forms of modern electronic communication are down.

As usual with some historic perspective on the one hand and an outlook regarding the use in future mass casualty events.

Radio is simple to use, effective way of getting instructions to those who are otherwise left clueless or, even worse, dependent on the spread of rumors in absence of real, verified and reliable information.

Unfortunately many broadcasting capabilities of stations using airwaves with very long ranges like shortwave have been reduced, because nowadays other broadcasts and Internet based transmissions of sound, video and text are more popular and (admittedly) of better quality. The only problem is what to do if these more modern forms of telecommunication fail ?

source: Youtube, uploaded by RogueStudio TV

A visual severe weather warning makes sense to alert people when they just watch TV and must get the severe weather warning as soon as possible in order to get the maximum time to prepare themselves for the impact of that weather emergency. As described many times: there are dangers like earthquakes which can't be predicted when they happen and if they happen only a few seconds (up to very few minutes far away from the epicenter) forewarning time remains.

When a disaster has impacted the populated area and all those TV/radio transmitters, cell towers, satellite connections and land lines for phone or Internet have been damaged or destroyed the population has suddenly no reliable source of information. The first simple, but sufficient thing to restore is radio ! It doesn't require as much technical stuff as TV and its signal could be picked up over a much wider area than TV. Many people do have TVs, but what if they all don't have AC power ? Many people however do have portable radios which also run on batteries, many mobile phones have built-in FM receivers (many owners might not be aware of this feature) and most cars have a radio which offer at least FM reception, sometimes even AM bands and cars/trucks have fully charged 12/24V batteries which could last for days if just the radio is switched on. (of course the battery also recharges if the motor runs)

To setup a backup FM/AM transmitter doesn't require that much financial and power resources and the advantage in holiday destinations abroad is that there's no worry about all those different TV standards in all those countries. (NTSC,PAL,SECAM,DVB-T,DVB-T2,how many lines, 50 or 60Hz, etc)

FM is FM and AM is AM all over the world, just there might be some countries which have slightly different frequency bands. It's also much simpler to get a 'network' running, since only one powerful transmitter is need in order to reach possibly millions of people (in densely populated areas) instead of numerous cell towers for 3G/4G or WIFI networks. Radio has noticeably the disadvantage of offering no channel from the citizens back to sender, but in time of regional/national/international crisis it's more important to get instructions out for the population.

As currently ongoing 'crisis light' (it could have been much worse, with many more dead and wounded) reminds us that often such simple things like where to pick up food or water at an outlet run by either military or NGO wouldn't be possible without radio instructions or printed fliers. (recently the Dutch Navy hand the latter out at Sint Maarten) Food and water distribution points are important and so are instructions for evacuation, medical tips or tips on hygiene or where wounded can be brought to in order to get proper treatment. It's hard to imagine for millennials, but for more than 50 years the world managed pretty well without Internet, apps, Youtube and all the other nice gadgets. Those gadgets are nice to have, but pretty useless when there's no Internet via 3G,4G,WIFI,Cable or DSL which can be knocked out all at once.
Radio can also be pretty upsetting for those who are used to comment on each and every message they come across. Radio is pretty simple: We (radio operators) talk, you - listen ! In an emergency that all what counts. It's like "Do this - or you might die"

Emergency broadcasts in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin (Hurricane Irma)

Florida (Hurrcane Irma)

Broadcasting equipment
Broadcast 500W and 1KW FM Transmitters [commercial] #

related links:
Emergency Broadcast System (USA) [Wikipedia]
Emergency Alert System (USA) [Wikipedia]
Emergency Alert System (EAS) (USA) [FCC]

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

One disaster, many areas devastated, multiple states affected

Dear reader,

as described in 2015 in the aftermath of the Nepal Earthquake disaster, where the disaster affected mainly (not exclusively, because India & Tibet in a much lesser degree have also been affected) just one country - Nepal - had to cope with massive, widespread destruction of whole communities, infrastructure and a resulting massive loss of life.

In 2015 it was described what other dangers are our there waiting to happen any day in the future, since natural disaster will always happen, whether humans like it or not, whether we tend to forget previous disasters affecting mankind or not. It's as sure as every morning the sun comes up in any corner of our home planet, only the timing, the scale and the areas affected are not known today. Concerning the latter we can say that certain areas are much more prone to disasters than others since we know about the tectonics responsible for the big earthquakes and we also know the location of volcanoes and we do know that tropical cyclones happen - well in the tropical zone near the equator.

The biggest problem are not those repeating patterns of disasters,
Hurricane Irma, September 2017

Hurricane Irma (2017)

Disaster threat meet alliance: 
pic source:Wikipedia

but a nasty human habit of memory loss (it seems) and ignorance. Maybe evolution intended our human brains to better forget things in order not to get crazy or making wise decisions not to settle down on the slopes of a volcano. As maybe a wise strategy of past ages it was to simply not to worry about anything since humans couldn't do much about it anyway, we now live in the 21st century providing us for a range of tools to address the dangers we will certainly face again and again.

In 2015 it was described that the scale of a disaster could range from 1 to 5, measured in the loss of human life and the impact on affected communities. Concerning loss of life the hurricane Irma was perhaps "just" level 1, but concerning communities affected more like 2-3. Natural disasters don't care about states' borders and not about jurisdiction. They only happen and all people who happen to be in that area are affected in exactly the same way. Whether they are locals and perhaps live in more primitive buildings or tourists being accommodated in a local luxury hotel. As the tourists perhaps enjoy the better structural integrity of a modern hotel, they are also affected by non existent electricity, water, food supplies and communication in order to call for help from "the outside world" in the aftermath of a disaster event. Regarding loss of communication and experiencing a sudden,unwanted time warp into the dark ages a blogpost was recently released.  

When a disaster strikes it's not the time to discuss the effects of global warming or how better prevention strategies might have prevented this or that effect of such a disastrous event. It's rather the time to plan, no ideally to execute, a 'war plan' worked out much earlier, an appropriate response to the disaster on the ground. Often assets available to civilian authorities aren't insufficient for such events or another big problem is cacophony rather than central command and authority which comes along with military leadership. One example of a sudden to the better comes to mind regarding hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana:

Army General Recalls Katrina Aftermath [Washington Post, Sept 7th 2006] 

The military in general and NATO alliance in particular does that kind of planning (and also rehearsing by regular maneuvers) for a living - it's their profession, and this expertise could be used also for the logistical challenge of extracting tourists from disaster areas.
Not only when there are many wounded a fast response within a few hours can make the difference between living or dying of those patients, but as we could just see in the small island communities of Sint Martin/Sint Maarten or also hundreds of years ago during the catastrophe that struck Lisboa/Lisbon (Portugal), a breakdown of civil society can rapidly bring the 'rule of thug' where only a few hours earlier the rule of law was upheld.

Hurricane Irma demonstrated what a 'trekking disaster' could do to many areas we humans call states. It started to wreak havoc in the most South-Western small Island nations and it ended in the South-Eastern part of the USA. Although the state of Florida managed to escape a massive loss of life the effects of Irma still make an unprecedented impact on the whole region:

It happened before and it will happen again. Strong earthquakes will affect a wide area around the epicenter. Near oceans they can produce a tsunami which can affect areas thousands of kilometers away. Hurricanes/Cyclones can maintain significant strength and every landmass in their path can be reduced to rubble. So planning for such an 'wide area event' would make sense and it also would make sense to scrap the idea that NGOs can cope with the aftermath of the most violent mass casualty events which affect hundreds, if not thousands of square kilometers, maybe divided by vast oceans. Not even the Army of one states could handle the appropriated response to such an event, only the combination of resources can respond in a matter of hours.

Every time such a disaster happens there are people who get angry with 'mother nature', some loons in the USA have even used their guns to shoot Hurricane Irma. First step must be to recognize that such disasters can't be prevent, many can't even be predicted (earthquake) and also not stopped like some non experts repeatedly propose to use hydrogen bombs to destroy deadly hurricanes like Irma. Listen to hurricane experts like Ryan Maue who know how much energy those weather phenomena absorb and learn to accept those forces of nature and concentrate on limiting their impact on human society. Human complacency, ignorance and weak memory kill not the natural disaster itself. Imagine an earthquake M 8.6 happening without any housing or mountains, just people standing in an open field. They will just fall down, maybe get some bruises, but there will be almost certainly no fatalities. Simple measures could reduce the impact of a catastrophic event significantly. Could mean the difference between life and death, between an inconvenience and mass casualties.

It starts with simple things like the knowledge we all have that there vacation destinations available for mass tourism from Europe, North America, Japan and now also China which are located in danger zones prone to earthquakes and/or tropical storms. It's not important what nationality they have, how rich their home countries are because during a catastrophic event they all are in the same boat or better distributed on several boats called hotels / holiday camps or however their housing in a foreign country is called. There are sometimes hundreds of such potential death traps in such areas with each housing a few to several hundred or thousand tourists (often families with children) and there are also many locals who work for their guests. All trapped and given what happened in the recent past - many times when the local/national power grid fails communication also goes down. Either communication equipment fails "just" because of the ab absence of regular AC power, or even worse: when cell towers suffer structural damage as well and landlines, often mounted on simple wooden poles in such areas, also get permanently disrupted. If this only happens on a small scale a repair would be possible within hours, but not when whole countries or provinces are affected, since the resources in material and man power are limited. So effectively even when those hotel buildings manage to survive an earthquake or heavy wind or even inundation they are cut-off from the outside world which means their home countries, families and friends at home. Without the possibility of using communications to ask for medical care, food and water supplies, evacuation the impact on  the hotel and its inhabitants at the time the disaster struck will be much more severe than with a backup emergency system which can be used within minutes the regular means of communications are rendered useless.

Both, countries that host tourists (and often depend to a high degree on tourism) and countries where the tourists come from could do a lot more to prevent such situations get out of control again. The country that hosts all those hotels/ accommodations could force them by law to have backup systems for power at least with the capacity to uphold simple communications for X number of days. The EU could for instance force tour operators to just add hotels to their holiday catalogues which have such
'emergency kits' in place. One handheld satellite phone with a certain amount (1000$ ?) of prepaid fees would be the minimum in order to be instantly able to dial the outside world and request assistance. Regular drills should be done in order to let hotel staff get a certain routine in using such equipment as well as to test the gear and the satellite connection.
Depending on the size of such housing complexes for tourists some additional requirements such as the ability to set up a high speed VSAT link or using a BGAN device for Internet based communication which could also send photos/videos to the rescue centers in order to get a better picture of the damage scale.

Tourist accommodations which will not cooperate must be banned from future bookings, or at least consumers should be able to make that informed decision themselves when a mandatory label also for security (besides the X star '*****' rating system for comfort) is required.
Something like: "This place is has certified disaster resilience" or
One star '*' for the ability to communicate after a catastrophic impact on local infrastructure
Two stars '**' for certified structural resilience against earthquakes up to magnitude XX.X, wind speeds of X00 km/h and flooding up to X meters
Three stars '***' for previous two categories & own backup power supply which can handle all the usual needs of the hotel when grid power is available (for X days)

All those relatively simple measures which even don't costs tons of money could prevent the 'usual chaos' taking place after such events. It could keep the people affected by the disaster calm as well as those family members, friends and also members of embassies and foreign ministries which frantically trying to get a clear picture of what happened and try to organize a medevac or just a regular evacuation of many people at once. Often when all the usual extraction points - ports and airports - are damaged, nor usable for many days or even be completely destroyed (during earthquakes even the runways can get severely damaged so that no flights are possible even when there's a backup flight control system in place.

Nepal Earthquake: Kathmandu Airport Closes Damaged Runway to Big Planes [NBC, May 3rd 2015]

Ports can get blocked by sunken vessels or cranes for unloading goods can be destroyed by high winds or piers several damaged by earthquakes and tsunamis. It's not exactly rocket science to figure out the possible structural damage to buildings and infrastructure, since there's lots of previous examples of such impacts. It would be recommended to have such worst case scenarios in mind when planning for emergency aid as well as for evacuations without relying on the usually available infrastructure. The planning should be for a wider area without airports, ports available and should consider alternative locations for maritime or airborne operations. Who prepares for such scenarios ? The military, which also have the right assets for landing operations in war zones!

When a damage is spread over a wide area and/or mass casualties have to be treated , fed and evacuated who else than a large military alliance than e.g. NATO can put all the necessary assets in place

(requires also strategic airlift capabilities and sometimes also aircraft carriers providing a helicopter shuttle to/from coast)

Philippines 2013

USA 2017 

 [Miami Herald, Sept 12 2017]

in a relatively short time. It requires a close coordination between national foreign ministries with NATO as one of the few, if not the only one, entities on the planet which can handle a giant logistic challenge when one or more entry points to one country or whole region are destroyed. The alliance has a wide range of special aircrafts, Navy vessels, but also vehicles which are designed to transport troops and material to any place where it's needed. (details: see Wiki links at the bottom of this page) EZR covered many major disasters since 2011 and concludes: it's still basically left to chance(!) what exactly will happen immediately after such an event occurs. It's about jurisdictions, national responsibilities for their own citizens and a myriad of officials involved in rescue & relief, in search & rescue operations and in damage assessment. Some bureaucratic hurdles often apply that need to be lowered first before aid can enter a country. It's perhaps unbelievable, but sometimes aid deliveries get stuck on borders, because national customs insist on collecting import duties, while further inland people are dying or at least starving or are forced to live under horrible conditions (Nepal 2015). Or some developed countries offer special airlift capacities and for domestic political reasons the government of that heavily damaged country refuse helicopters from country A while offers of country B are welcomed and there's still a dramatic shortage of airlift capacity (roads and bridges destroyed, many population centers on hill where landslides blocked road access (Nepal 2015)

Irma 2017:
  • France and the Netherlands are continuing to evacuate people from Saint-Martin island, including EU citizens, but the process is long. Several Member States (CZ, BE, RO, DE, MT, PG, ES, SE, HU, DK) reported having citizens (five to ten) still facing a very difficult situation on Saint-Martin island and British Virgin Islands. 
  • Germany requested support through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to send a consular assistance team to Florida for the benefit of German and EU citizens. In addition, Portugal confirmed that it will charter a plane to Guadeloupe on 13 September to repatriate its citizens (seats are available for other EU nationals).
       source: European Commission: ECHO-Flash [Sept 13th 2017]

Unnecessary delays happen, multiple states increase their foreign office activities and try to charter aircraft or arrange other means of transport for their citizens. So as it happened many times in such disaster areas when some lucky ones with the 'right' passport of country A, people who have been refused to board that same airplane will remain in miserable conditions and get angry why they couldn't be flown out as well (plus their relatives and friends back home). A myriad of phone calls, e-mails, social media messages between various parties (in a time where communication networks are down or capacity is very limited)
is exchanged and many medical supplies used also for stranded tourists could have been saved or used for the local population if evacuation would have been more organized and quicker.

Some impressions of current disaster St.Martin/Maarten:
In general it would be possible to plan ahead of catastrophes, to negotiate procedures for aid deliveries and extraction of tourists in such an event, so when disaster strikes a plan for e.g. Nepal, Caribbean+USA, Philippines, India, Indian Ocean region (2004 tsunami) can be activated and at least the most ineffective bureaucratic hurdles are gone from the beginning and all alternative access routes into and out of a region can be opened immediately. NATO could have worked out a procedure with every country which want to participate in such an 'extraction program' well before the next catastrophe happens somewhere at some time in the future.

Hubs with mass shelters could be planned in advance and installation of temporary housing as well as e.g. consular offices for every country involved in the program could begin immediately. The gathering point doesn't have to be on an open field, but tents or other shelters could set up in the vicinity of airports after all regular places like hotels are fully booked. Shuttle service from disaster area to airlift hub back to Northern American, European or Asian destinations after the rescued people saw the embassy staff. So this doesn't have to happen in a disaster zone and strain their scarce resources for the local population which of course also suffers and can't be flown out. An evacuation 'without questions asked' to a hub outside the disaster zone would speed up things significantly and the bidirectional traffic (evacuees:out and aid:in) will stop and would also benefit the delivery of aid to the needy.

It's either that, or there will be a certain amount of chaos every single time another calamity happens. Not all of them will be limited to less than hundred dead and a few wounded. Now is the time to think about this reoccurring pattern again and perhaps procedures will be fully worked out and ready to be activated before the next 'big one' strikes. When it strikes it's likely to hit one of the countries without an own large military force to cope with such an event, like it happened recently with one small island of Sint Martin/SintMaarten. French and Dutch troops helped to organize evacuation of tourists and bringing in the needed supplies for the local population.(see tweets with attached pictures)  

Politicians have to consider that they also 'look good' when everything in the wake of such a catastrophe is well organized and voters will get the impression of governmental competence. Our armed forces' image will also profit from smoothly running evacuation operations, so everyone involved in such an operation, but most of all the victims do profit from a well organized NATO response to 'threats of nature'. If other countries besides those with NATO membership wish to join this 'global extraction and support scheme' it will also help to reduce tensions in the world in the spirit of a unified global response to threats far bigger than petty human rivalries. In the wake of epic disaster we all face in the future we are all in the same boat and the well-being of their citizens should be priority of all governments regardless of political/ideological differences.

Regarding the aftermath of hurricane Irma and given the level of destruction as far as monitoring events from abroad allows, it can be said that evacuations are rather well organized by various governments. They're doing what they can, and fortunately there are not that many wounded like e.g. in the Nepal earthquake event where many people were buried under the rubble of buildings or have been affected by landslides. Although this time people in the affected areas have been relatively lucky a much quicker extraction (as suggest: by the superb capabilities of NATO) from the extended disaster zone is preferred.

related articles
Appropriate response to calamities with mass casualties [EZR, May 2015]
Nepal earthquake: assessment of airlift capacity in Nepal's central region [EZR, May 2015]
Puinruimen en 2,5 miljard dollar vinden voor herstel Sint-Maarten [Caribisch Netwerk, Sep 12 2017]

some useful links:
unique military assets/capabilities
Strategic Airlift Capability [Wikipedia]
Lockheed_C-5_Galaxy [Wikipedia]
BoeingC-17 Globemaster_III [Wikipedia]
Airbus A400M Atlas [Wikipedia]
Lockheed C-130 Hercules [Wikipedia]
Airbus A310 MRTT [Wikipedia]
Airbus A330 MRTT [Wikipedia]
Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey [Wikipedia]
HMS Queen Elizabeth [Wikipedia]
Helicopter carrier [Wikipedia]
HMS Ocean [Wikipedia]
French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle [Wikipedia]
Supercarrier [Wikipedia]
List of active Royal Marines military watercraft [Wikipedia]
Armoured vehicle-launched bridge [Wikipedia]

Disaster response [Wikipedia]
Member states of NATO [Wikipedia]

History of airfield repairs,creation from scratch
1892nd Engineer Aviation Battalion (United States) [Wikipedia]
US Army Engineers building a major Airfield on Saipan [,video b/w]
Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1945, Vol. 1 [University of Texas libraries]
(several maps showing the construction of airfields on several islands]

History of NATO forces playing a crucial role in rescue & relief operations

Several neighbouring countries sent soldiers to assist in searching for bodies and rescuing people. The U.S. Army sent helicopters from Germany to rescue people from rooftops
       source: North Sea flood of 1953 [Wikipedia]

For those still anxiously awaiting rescue, help finally arrived on Monday 2nd February. Large scale relief came with the help and support of neighbouring countries (some of which had also been affected by the flood) including Belgium, France and England who sent military personnel to assist in search and rescue operations. Canada and the US also provided much needed urgent assistance, including helicopters to aid the enormous evacuation operation that was underway.

source: The Dutch Flood Disaster of 1953 [Holland at home]

North Sea flood of 1962 [Wikipedia]
Die große Rettungsaktion [NDR, Feb 16 2012]

Mar. 03, 1962 - NATO General Secretary visits Hamburg []

Hilfseinsätze der Bundeswehr der letzten Jahre []
(summary of aid missions of the Bundeswehr (German Army))

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Communications during/after a catastrophic event

Dear reader,

hurricane Irma has just wreaked havoc on several nations & small islands in the Caribbean area of our planet and some of those islands have not only lost numerous, if not almost all buildings, but also their ability to communicate with the outside world.

This not only hampers the rescue & relief efforts since no clear picture of the disaster can be obtained by voice or written reports or simply some photographs/videos being taken and transmitted to those who can deliver help, but also leaves confusion and room for dangerous rumors. If no 'proper' flow of information can be upheld people inside and outside a disaster area tend to spread rumors or 'hearsay info' which can result in panic or looting or violence.

In order to uphold proper communication channels basically two things are required: electricity and communication equipment with all 'attached stuff' like fully operational antennas or cables connected a network/grid.

Electricity is usually distributed via power lines, which are often prone to get destroyed if they rely on poles rather than on underground cables. Even when the entire electricity grid consists of underground cables, there must be some inter-connectors and substations in the system which could easily be affected by flooding or metallic debris flying around by strong wind. A blackout of the entire system or only some parts of the AC power grid also affects all kinds of communications from landlines to GSM & other wireless networks to HF/VHF/UHF transceivers and satellite comms equipment.

When the regular power grid is down it might take days, weeks or even months to repair it because spare parts are often available from local stocks only in limited quantities. Everything from miles of cables, wooden or concrete poles, insulators, entire substations, etc must be ordered from one or more manufacturers and then there's often the problem of damaged or destroyed roads/airports/ports which makes purchasing new vital equipment a challenge.

So very often it is better for individuals/firms/authorities to rely on DC backup systems or on a 'private', small scale AC network powered by diesel/generators or by a or solar 'island solution'(offgrid) consisting of solar panels, batteries and (DC>AC) inverters. With the help of a BESS system connected to a part of the regular power grid or even the entire grid, an AC system can be powered up again with some solar and/or wind generators instead of power stations running on conventional fuels. However this medium range solutions will also take some time to fire up, since the damaged grid can require multiple replacements or repairs. 

According to Dutch minister Plasterk the situation on St. Maarten is momentarily rather bleak concerning electricity & telecommunication:
translation: There has to happen a whole lot on St. Maarten, communication
with the island is still difficult, says minister Plasterk,

  # Please note that all links marked "commercial" provided in this blog post are only to demonstrate that all mentioned products or methods are readily available. Of course there are many other similar products on offer by competitors and all hardware mentioned here isn't a "must buy" recommendation. So everyone interested in such products should do proper market research.  

Offgrid solutions, small & medium sized
Local 'private' solutions are easier to transport and to fire up, but relying on liquid fuels like gasoline or diesel might also be a problem in a disaster zone where gas stations are either sold out or destroyed. The fuel distribution system needs to be intact in order to produce electricity locally or small scale wind/solar generators have to be used in order to be independent from properly working fuel distribution system. In can even be most cost effective in the long run and it's safer because the improper use of fuel powered generators pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. There have been disasters in the past where people either didn't heed the warning of authorities not to use generators inside buildings or didn't read the instruction manuals or both.
Carbon Monoxide Deaths: Generators Cause At Least Nine Fatal Poisonings After Hurricane Sandy [Huffingtington Post, Nov 2 2012]
Besides the CO problem conventional generators produce noise & need maintenance (lubricants/spare parts/service personnel) just like any car/truck. During maintenance a second backup generator has to be used or there is 'planned blackout'. Solar systems don't need much (or no) maintenance but wind generators do, albeit much less than combustion engines.

commercial storage hardware
size: ¹=small,²=medium,³=big
All-in-one solar power solution [Victron] ¹ #
Stand-Alone Solar Solutions [SMA] ¹/² #
Y cube - unsere plug-and-play Energiespeicherlösung [Younicos,pdf 6 pages,German] ²/³ #
Y cube - plug-and-play energy storage solution [Younicos,pdf 6 pages,English] ²/³ #

Powerwall [commercial,14kWh] ¹ #
Tesla Powerwall [Wikipedia] ¹ #
10 home batteries that rival Tesla’s Powerwall 2 [Business Insider, May 18th 2017] ¹ #

Solar/Wind info
Solar yield calculator  [EU Commission, 4 Europe,Africa,Asia]
RE Explorer [NREL]
Solar Maps [NREL]
Wind hybrid power systems [Wikipedia]

Extra strong solar panel (4000 instead of usual 2400 Pascal wind pressure)[commercial] ¹/²/³ #
approx 10KWpeak (53 pcs) =795kg,& 67,7 square meters (installed) 

Offgrid solutions, micro size
8 best solar chargers [The Independent, Apr 13 2016]
10 ways to make your phone's battery last longer [CNET, Aug 26th 2017]

Offgrid cooling*
(12/24V DC = more efficient than 230/110V AC systems)
Welcome to Waeco Fridges UK [commercial] #

* think about cooling for medical purposes first and then there's the general need for refrigeration of perishable food. 

Renewable goals, energy prices and economics
(before Hurricane Irma struck the island & outlook) 
(this section is currently under construction)

Energy Snapshot Saint Martin/Sint Maarten [NREL, pdf 5 pages,ENG]
(detailed data re. production, distribution & consumption of electricity - 2012(!))
Consumenten in St. Maarten betalen $0.35 per kWh voor elektriciteit. Curaçao en de Bahama’s zijn het duurst in het Caribisch gebied met $0.42 en Suriname, dat hydro-elektrische installaties gebruikt, het goedkoopst met $0.05 tot $0.11 per kWh.
translation: Expensive. Consumers in St. Martin pay $0.35 per kWh for electricity. Curacao and the Bahamas are with $0.42 the most expensive in the Caribbean area, and Suriname which uses hydro-electric generators is cheapest with $0.05 - $0.11 per kWh 
source:St. Maarten publiceert ambitieus energiebeleid [Caribisch Netwerk, Sep 5th 2014]
Duurzame en betaalbare energie in Caribisch Nederland [,pdf 18 pages, Dutch] (Just for islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius & Bonaire)

does not need power at client side, although many customers use base stations & wireless units, which don't work without electricity.Keeping old fashioned telephones for emergency use recommended
poles with phone lines can be damaged by storms, switchboards can also suffer from wide spread power outages or can be affected by flooding or wind damage.

HF transmitting equipment 
Can be used to establish long distance connections (up to thousands of miles/kilometers) in different operation modes (CW/morse code, voice or data), does not need to depend on sophisticated existing networks. Can be used mobile/portable.
works like a radio broadcast, multiple receiving stations can pickup message

Depends on atmospheric conditions (daytime/nighttime & solar winds),
good antenna
Outside world must monitor the used frequencies/operating modes
signal reception often varies
often legal restrictions apply in various countries
high power consumption for transmitting energy (depending on output)

Phone Patch, Autopatch and HF/VHF/UHF Operating Guidelines [re.:USA,ARRL]

VHF/UHF transceivers
Usual range ca. 0-200 km
usually more stable connections than much lower HF frequencies, higher data rates / better voice quality are possible because of more available bandwidth

does not need to depend on sophisticated existing networks. Can be used mobile/portable.
works like a radio broadcast, multiple receiving stations can pickup message

For maximum range high-gain antennas are needed which sometimes are difficult to use in urban areas. Another problem are mountains/valleys which can block propagation of airwaves as well as large buildings.
in some countries legal restrictions can apply
high power consumption for transmitting energy (depending on output)

Satellite based communication
depending on system operator could work on the entire planet
stable high speed/data rate connections
quick & easy to setup communication
works without existing infrastructure and could substitute broken systems
ideal as backup after destruction of regular lines of communication

depending of frequency bands used can be affected by tropical rain downpours
Antennas (dishes, flat square) might not work in buildings, densely populated areas - mostly need free line of sight from client unit to orbiting satellite
expensive (hardware & operating costs)
in some countries legal restrictions apply

HF transceivers (commercial website)

Satellite based communication
VSAT systems [Wiki]
VSAT coverage maps & FAQs [commercial website]
BGAN systems [Wiki]
SNG & Microwave Systems [Wiki re video & audio broadcasts]

Satellite backbone & small GSM network [&WIFI=preferred technology]
GSM Rural Extension | Site Installation [commercial website] #

Rural Mobile Telephony: A VSAT (Satellite) based Approach
[by F.E. Idachaba & F.O. Edeko,pdf,Covenant University & University of Benin]

AT&T GSM Microcell [commercial, pdf file 12 pages] #

Iridium system
multiple phone lines [commercial website, French] #
various Iridium phones [Iridium] #

all kinds of SATphones [commercial website,UK] #

US National Guard's Hurricane Irma response
"The JISCC is specifically tailored to support unique homeland defense and civil support mission requirements," said Maj. Michael Holton, commander of the 233rd Space Communications Squadron. "It provides non-secure voice, data, video, intra-team radio, and radio interoperability for first responders supporting the incident commander."
source: Colorado National Guard sending special communications facility and crew to South [ Sept 10th 2017] 

If Internet access is still available, saves network capacity:
Hurricane Sandy - Emergency communication setup using Twitter
[EZR,Nov 2 2012]

The impact of a catastrophic event on communication infrastructure can be very limited if:
A existing technology is more resilient (strengthened/reinforced) and has a backup system which could ideally be fired up within minutes or installed in a matter of hours.Countries can force the private sector to invest in resilience by granting/renewing network operating licences only when all requirements are met. Requirements should include wind/rain/flooding/shaking scenarios and consider all possible 'Achilles heels' including installing backup power facilities high enough above ground to avoid flooding.
>>The pre-event tsunami hazards study, if done properly, would have identified the diesel generators as the linchpin of a future disaster. Fukushima Daiichi was a sitting duck waiting to be flooded.”<<
         source: Fukushima disaster was preventable, new study finds 
        [Robert Perkins,University of Southern California]  

Regarding structural failures of TV/Radio/Cell towers this was found ::

2.2.6 Telecommunication Towers and Masts (Photo 6)

These are almost always consciously-engineered structures. There is no good reason why so many of them fail in hurricanes. The bad reason is usually inadequate procurement procedures. Specialist advice is not often sought in specifying design criteria for suppliers or in checking that specified criteria have been met. The most common destruction of engineered structures in Caribbean hurricanes is in this class of facility.

source: Hurricanes and their Effects on Buildings and Structures in the Caribbean [by Tony Gibbs, Director, CEP, oas,org]

So this section on towers and masts suggest that in principle a design withstanding even the highest wind speeds would be possible to implement on those regions, but so far not too many firms/people/authorities cared about this resilience. Some SHF antennas (parabolic, offset or other designs) used for long distance connection either for horizontal (terrestrial) point to point connections or for a satellite link up/downlink have a problem since they have a high wind drag and the materials widely used aren't not thick enough to widthstand the high torque forces. They either bend or break which on both cases renders them useless and usually they can't be repaired. Some more research has to done on satellite dishes made from solid concrete and their 'survival rates' during tropical storms. They do exist, this author has seen some of them built by ham radio operators. They used this material because of the low costs and in order to be able to cast the dish according to their own specifications (like e.g. F/D ratio). A ground mounted satellite dish made of solid concrete should be able to absorb high winds and even impacts of smaller objects without to much damage.  

Some examples of similar structures have been found: Acoustic mirror [Wikipedia]

The alternative for increasing the chances of 'dish survival' would be a protective cover. Either those giant 'golf balls' made of extremely strong reinforced plastics (because metals would block incoming/outgoing SHF signals) which could allow operation to continue even during a storm, or a metal cover, some kind of 'garage' which can house the dish safely during the storm. It would have the advantage to shield the disk also from projectile impact provided the steel or better titanium is thick enough.    

Maybe it's possible to stimulate research projects with the aim of adding or replacing materials used today for the production of lightweight and strong, but not strong enough dishes for hurricanes. 
Carbon fibre satellite transmission dishes are accurate and portable [MaterialsToday, Feb 14 2007]

Kevlar comes to mind, because it's used in modern bullet proof vests or how about adding a steel reinforced concrete layer at the back of a commercial carbon fibre satellite dish. Creativity and testing is needed.  

National authorities should demand that vital communication infrastructure should be able to survive a set of dangers that can be expected in the area such an entity will be or was constructed.
Archives and historical records should be (re)checked for clues about quantity and magnitude of such catastrophic events in the past and new regulations should be of course as stringent as the worst case found on record or what scientists of various faculties believe are possible in the future. After such a area specific analysis it would also be easier to determine what option (A or B) to pursue.   

 The New Yorker's Amy Davidson, meanwhile, recalls Haiti's recent 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which was less powerful than Japan's but decimated the country's vulnerable infrastructure and killed hundreds of thousands of people. "The scenes from Japan are awful," she writes, but comparing the disasters in Japan and Haiti provides "evidence of why earthquakes are political and economic, almost as much as natural, experiences." Buildings in Tokyo swayed, other water-drenched structures collapsed, and cities in northern Japan suffered more than the capital, Davidson writes, but Tokyo "hasn’t been flattened in anything like the way Port au Prince was."

In a sign of Tokyo's reslience, images are now surfacing of the Tokyo Tower, re-lit and relatively unscathed.
             source: Did Engineering Save Lives in the Japanese Earthquake? [The Atlantic, Mar 11 2011]

The Sky Tree's shinbashira is a hollow concrete tube housing elevators and stairs. It's structurally separate from the exterior truss but is joined by oil dampers, which help reduce quake shaking.

"The anti-quake measures in this structure can reduce quake vibrations by 50 percent," Hirotake Takanishi, PR manager for Tobu Tower Sky Tree, told me. "We've run simulations showing the Sky Tree will withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake, and can withstand even stronger ones, but we can't say definitely what its upper limit is."
        source: Japan builds Tokyo Sky Tree, world's tallest tower [CNET, Mar 1 2012]
B replacement hardware is safely stored nearby and doesn't need to be purchased from manufacturer once such an event happens. Ideally logistic experts like military has 24/7/365 access to such storage places in order to react fast enough. A storage place near a tactical airlift airport would be ideal.

Reliable Hurricane prediction gives logistics/technicians at least 3 days time in advance to predict possible impact and to plan for effective approach to restore full, or at least partial, communication ability in order to reduce additional negative impact on the local population. Runways and properly working ports are important, but so is communication for multiple reasons.

Currently and in the near future earthquakes can't be predicted in advance.

Possible improvement rapid response
current conditions Sint Maarten:
       engl.:"Situation on Sint Maarten is dire also due lack of basic needs and  
       communications. Thus in the upcoming days capacities will be increased."
       Royal Dutch Navy
In order to avoid a delay caused by difficult conditions at one or more airports in the disaster area in coastal areas Navy vessels equipment with state of the art satellite communication abilities should also allow an optional microwave link from shore to ship and allow a 'bridge' function of on-board comms equipment with communication equipment deployed in the disaster zone. At least communication channels under the control of own troops should be able to establish a satellite link. If 'comms teams' are deployed before e.g. a hurricane hits the designated area they could use the time between they are safe to setup their gear and the time the Navy vessels are back in range of the microwave link after they have left the theater in order to avoid being affected by high winds and/or high seas. VHF/UHF link is also a possibility, which should be easier to establish, but has less usable bandwidth. In case of current island scenario it could have worked for local officials to use an emergency GSM network (restricted by special SIM cards or by phone IMEI numbers) including a direct link to the Netherlands or France. 

The full extend of damage to various Caribbean Islands is not know at this point and hurricane Jose trailing Irma has not left the area. According to preliminary reports some transmission towers not only carrying GSM cell phone signals but also those carrying radio and television signals have been knocked out by Irma and those which may have managed to survive the first blow might not endure a second beating by Jose. It should be considered to equip Navy vessels with some lower power FM transmitters for radio broadcasts and VHF/UHF transmitters for emergency TV channels usage.
Such low power transmitters (200W - a few KW) have been in use in the past at various Airforce and Army barracks where US, UK or other countries' forces have been stationed. A local population in a disaster zone with access to regular and reliable information might start to spread dangerous rumors and it is also useful to provide vital information in a time where there's a media blackout as well as a power blackout. Many locals have small radios or TV sets or at least have smart phones or tablets, but during a long lasting power blackout a free of charge distribution of e.g. simple solar chargers or the establishment of generator powered public recharging stations could be the first step to restore some control. Once the public has access to limit amounts of electricity they can use their devise to receive important messages such as planned evacuations or a constant flow of information that additional resources are being sent in. Larger Navy vessels like US carriers already have own TV studios and a CCTV system which just need to add a small transmitter.
Regarding FM radio broadcasts it's also worth remembering that not only households have radios,but there also portable radios, those in in cars, and also many modern phones have built-in FM radios (often the headphone cables serve as an antenna). Regarding broadcasts from ship to shore, there's nothing unusual about it since this was done since the 1960s by various radio pirates which circumvented national broadcast legislation
in the UK       : Radio Caroline
and in the NL : Radio Veronica

So the idea that Navy vessels should be able to broadcast in emergency situations isn't so far fetched at all. Especialy when keeping in mind that many larger population centers around the globe are near or directly located at the coast.Of course using FM band instead of long or medium wave (in AM) would make much more sense nowadays. If Navy vessels are also used for emergency assistance their role in 'rumor control' and informing  the local population (with perhaps some entertainment as well) should be made possible by adding some broadcast equipment consisting of transmitter and a rotatable Yagi antennas .  
>>Speaking at the same news conference, Dutch Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk said that some 70% of the houses on St. Maarten have collapsed. After days of major difficulties in communicating with the island, “some communication” has now been restored, he said.
Soldiers have distributed leaflets and used megaphones to tell locals to stay indoors, as Hurricane Jose is expected to pass north of the island later on Saturday. Most patients have been evacuated from the island, the minister said.<<
       source: WSJ , Sep 8 2017

Although good old leaflets are better than no information at all, they also require some logistics to get printed and distributed. It might take some investments to be able to deliver 21st Century solutions to our vacationing citizens and locals alike, but once modern communication assets are in place it sure makes getting the 'official word' out much easier & faster. Many people have sophisticated hardware to receive such messages and are perhaps even more than willing to provide feedback to authorities in order to speed up and  optimize rescue & relief efforts. Once the broken communication channels (radio/TV/GSM networks/WIFI) the citizens are familiar with are restored the mood will most likely change from 'grim' to 'a bit more relaxed'. Considering bandwidth scarcity during the initial phase, perhaps starting firing up GSM SMS messaging service and public WIFI with only a limited number of open ports for the use of messaging apps like Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook would be sufficient. It would certainly send a positive message that the local, disaster struck society isn't warped back some fifty or more years when they have to cope without electricity and modern electronic communication for many days or even weeks.

Hurricane Irma was terrible, there's no question about it, but it has been mentioned back in 2015 in a blog post regarding the need of much better organized disaster response in case something really catastrophic with many thousands of deaths and widespread chaos happens. On the scale suggested in the earlier article, current emergency in the Caribbean area of our planet is perhaps a level 1 or 2 event. Much bigger earthquakes or tropical storms, or *god forbid* the impact of an asteroid, will happen some time in the future, so a much quicker and more focused response can actually save lives. We are lucky to have so many very useful gadgets - we only have to use them when we lose the vital infrastructure in a disaster event. Mass tourism to very remote areas of the planet also requires more preparedness to support, inform and if necessary also to extract our citizens from their vacation destinations. NATO has excellent logistical skills to handle the aftermath of such unfortunate, but inevitable events - just a few adjustments or upgrades needed in future.      

Wireless radio and TV services are easier to provide than power which could be generated aboard the vessels, but thick cables are required to provide electricity for most important onshore buildings like e.g. hospitals/police stations/jails. Depending on the size of a Navy vessel maybe not a bad idea to have 1 or 2 smaller spare generators (conventional or solar/batt system) for such events on board.

planned future related blog releases:
Please note that a second blog post on (timely) evacuations of tourists especially from NATO countries using common NATO resources under a unified command is also 'in the pipeline'. Recent developments in the aftermath of hurricane Irma will be mentioned as well as conclusions from natural disasters which happened in the past.  
(in order to fulfill that vital civil protection task for citizens living/vacationing abroad, defense spending in all NATO member countries must be brought back to 2% of GDP where this required minimum isn't currently met)

note: as always during an unfolding event it's highly likely that some additions will be added later to this blog post

related articles (multiple languages)
re TV:
Hurricane Irma legt tv- en radiozenders Sint Maarten plat [, Sep 6 2017]
List of television stations in the Caribbean [Wikipedia]
Huisvesting [re NTSC system being used in Sint Maarten,]
NTSC [Wikipedia]

re radio:
Broadcast 500W and 1KW FM Transmitters [commercial] #

re Social media:
How to use Twitter during a major catastrophe [EZR, May 2015]

re power storage systems:
for households:
Nissan geeft auto-accu's tweede leven in je meterkast [RTL Z, May 13th 2016]
Prevention strategies to limit impact of catastrophic events [EZRdevelop, Nov 2012]