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Emergency backup plans for wireless access

Advice for wireless coverage and access during emergencies.

I am catastrophe adjuster. Last year, during Hurricane Katrina, I had difficulty distributing funds to my clients because I had limited wireless access. I want to do everything possible to be prepared this year. I use two laptops and a Palm smartphone with Bluetooth. I have cell phone service but need a backup plan in areas where cell towers have been damaged. What do you suggest?

In the aftermath of last year's hurricanes and flooding, many people who lost landline Internet and telephone access used cellphones to touch base with family and friends. However, as you point out, cell towers can also be widely affected by natural disasters, leaving you with spotty or zero coverage.

Satellite voice and data services are more pricey that "regular" services, but they may be the only solution you'll find that works just about anywhere, no matter what the condition of nearby landline networks otherwise required to carry traffic to and from the Internet. For example, you could use a GlobalStar or Iridium phone with Direct Internet kit, or an Inmarsat RBGAN Satellite IP Modem. Some satellite service providers offer on-demand services, where you only pay for what you use -- for example, see Telenor's Web site. Satellite phones can also be rented, which is not a bad way to find out if this is really a good solution for you before buying equipment for long-term use.

This was last published in July 2006

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