NSTAC Recommendation Highlights the Criticality of Satellite

The National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) was established over 25 years ago to provide the President with the best possible counsel in areas of national security and emergency preparedness. In 2011 the NSTAC has recommended that the U.S. government investigate leasing commercial satellite capacity to be on stand-by in case of a national emergency that damages the nation’s or the Washington region’s communications infrastructure.

The recommendation was made earlier this year when the NSTAC submitted its final report to the President on Communications Resiliency.  The Executive Office of the President’s National Security Staff had requested that the NSTAC examine the Nation’s resiliency in ensuring essential levels of operability for an array of communications services. 

More specifically, the NSTAC was asked to provide recommendations on “options for investments or action” for the government in order to enhance the survivability and availability of communications in a crisis, whether a natural disaster or an attack. 

The NSTAC is made up of senior executives from major telecommunications companies, network service providers, information technology, finance, and aerospace companies are invited to participate. Kay Sears, President of Intelsat General, currently serves on the NSTAC.

The NSTAC recommendation looked at four possible crisis scenarios:

·         Multiple terrorist attacks in the National Capital Region

·         Catastrophic earthquake in California

·         Cyber attacks

·         Massive Internet disruptions

In its findings, the report speaks to the evolution in satellite technology and the expansion of its capacity to carry voice and data services.  Think back to 9/11/01, or to the much more recent earthquake in the Washington, DC metro area – what is the first critical network to fail? It’s the terrestrial cellular network.

Satellites have a mobility advantage over terrestrial networks, as well as being (obviously) removed from terrestrial disruptions. This provides great resiliency in the event of a disaster. 

Specifically, the NSTAC recommends that the President direct the appropriate department of agency to:

1.      Investigate the possibility of investing in additional pre-positioned, leased satellite capacity to restore commercial communications transport in the event of an emergency and ensure that appropriate satellite ground equipment is in place to augment satellite capacity and equipment.

2.      Expand federal interoperability grant funding guidance to encourage NS/EP entities to acquire mobile satellite communications equipment and ensure that critical staff are educated and trained in satellite use.  Emergency response drills and exercises that include the use of mobile satellite communications should also be mandated.

3.      Modify public safety communications grant funding programs to require that interoperable communications plans place greater emphasis on satellite communications generally to provide resiliency during a disaster.

The satellite resources of this country are second to none. We need to leverage this advantage so that these resources are available at the time of a national crisis. We hope the latest NSTAC recommendation provides a blueprint for making that happen.

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