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Quadrant proves powerful tool during tsunami warnings

HELCO truck

HELCO truck

In addition to the Hawaii Electric Light Company’s (HELCO) success with reducing fuel consumption, using Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant location-based services (LBS) and telematics solutions (see previous Blog post), HELCO has also found Quadrant to be a necessary tool in times of crisis.

With its own home-grown volcanoes, the Hawaiian Islands are no strangers to nature’s fury. At the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii must also be prepared for dangers from its far-flung Ring of Fire neighbors—in the form of tsunamis.

Tsunami from Chile

The effectiveness of the Quadrant system in emergency situations was tested in February 2010 after the devastating 8.8 Mw earthquake in Chile, which put all of the Hawaiian Islands on tsunami alert. HELCO’s emergency plan was kicked into high gear, which meant immediately locating all of the company’s mobile resources and redistributing them to key points on the Island and HELCO installations, away from areas that could be vulnerable in a tsunami event. “It made such a difference to have that information available in real-time and on my computer so that I could easily direct our staff, and if needed, share that information with other emergency organizations,” said Kelvin Kohatsu, HELCO’s Fleet Administrator.

Fortunately, Hawaii was unaffected by the quake, but it was a good test of HELCO’s preparedness and the Quadrant system.

Quadrant GPS map showing HELCO truck locations on the Big Island of Hawaii

Quadrant GPS satellite image showing HELCO truck locations on the Big Island of Hawaii

Tsunami from Japan

On March 11, 2011, the tragic 9.1 Mw Sendai earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, again demonstrated Quadrant’s usefulness in times of crises. As Pacific Rim nations raced to secure their coastlines before the tsunami hit, Kelvin was able to use Quadrant GPS to allocate trucks and drivers, and to prepare to assist with evacuations and clean up on the Big Island.

With a tsunami bearing down on the Hawaiian Islands, Kelvin rushed to HELCO’s headquarters to check that fuel acquisition, standby contractors, dispatch, and equipment were available and ready. In addition, he hurried to ensure HELCO trucks located in the tsunami inundation zone were relocated to higher ground.

As Transportation & Maintenance Unit Leader for the Logistics Team at HELCO, he credited Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant solution (particularly Dispatch Management) as crucial in supplying needed vehicles to support Operations. “GPS remote vehicle management technology is invaluable in these situations,” he claimed, adding that “having a comprehensive GSP system allows us to instantly locate units and plan for dispatch of those resources. Other organizations would use two-way communications, if they’re operational.”

During tsunami alerts, the main evacuation route requisitions the Hilo International Airport runway

During tsunami alerts, the Hilo International Airport runway becomes a main evacuation route

This first operational period lasted until the tsunami warning was lifted, which came the following day. After the emergency period passed, HELCO transitioned to the recovery period, where it supported Operations in clearing and cleaning up debris and damage from the tsunami, which fortunately was minimal.

Quadrant has also been of use in more minor situations such as when a localized oil spill affected Hilo Harbor and HELCO vehicles and personnel were involved in containment and cleanup efforts.

Iridium satellites not affected by recent solar storms

Aurora activity is brighter and more vigorous during solar storms

Aurora activity is brighter and more vigorous during solar storms

Leading scientists’ warnings that a massive solar storm, which could adversely affect satellite communications worldwide, has had no affect on Iridium satellites.

In an email to partners, Iridium CEO, Matt Desch, said “Low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellite systems, such as ours, are actually less susceptible to solar storms than geosynchronous (GEO) satellite systems. Solar storms generate an increase of radiation that can cause issues for satellites and even some electrical systems on Earth.  However, due to our satellites’ robust design, along with our system fault detection and mitigation processes, we have little concern over these kinds of storms. This is because of the altitude at which our satellites fly as well our continued investment in our network.”

WebTech Wireless VP of Quadrant sales, Harald Fritz, said, “We chose Iridium as that critical link when regular cellular coverage is unavailable. Iridium provides the global network coverage as well as best-in-class coverage in northern regions where we service energy, resource, and government customers”. He added that this is important to WebTech Wireless clients, because “customers usually choose this dual mode hybrid solution in mission-critical or worker-safety related applications. This means their staff must always have coverage and be in constant connectivity.”

On February 15, 2011, scientists observed solar flares emitting billions of tons of charged particles that could trigger a $2 trillion global Katrina to communications satellites, electric power grids and GPS navigation systems. It was the largest solar storm in four years. Solar particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere.