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It’s 2023 – Why is this an issue?

Communications in time of a national disaster is critical especially when infrastructure is down. It is something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about over the years in my work on technology, climate change and adaptation. When I was at Fujitsu as Head of Sustainability for the Oceania region in 2012, I pitched the idea of having a mobile comms pack ready to be deployed in times of disaster. I spent some time with the comms team that had been deployed to Afghanistan on several tours providing the critical secure link for enabling Aussie troops to be able to talk to loved ones at home. The ability and capability were there 15 years ago to deploy a Wi-Fi hotspot in the field with a satellite link. Sadly, the idea never got any traction due to costs and the training required to set up.

My hometown Taradale is currently underwater
My hometown Taradale is currently underwater

Fast forward today and due to the devastating cyclone Gabrielle in New Zealand I have not been able to speak to my parents in my old home town of Napier since Tuesday morning some 60 hours ago. Through the kindness of an old school friend all I know is that they are ok and didn’t have to evacuate. My last message from my mum just said that the back yard was flooded, and the power is cut off.

We all talk a good game.

For years I have sat in conferences and had meetings where we discussed topics such as climate change, the need for adaptation and improving resilience. Yet it seems like we are destined to learn the hard way.

It is beyond frustration knowing that the emergency communication technology exists today.

To hear on the news that supermarkets and petrol stations can’t open unless they have Wifi. Stores quite rightfully are only taking cash as Eftpos is down but good luck trying to get your local ATM to work and who today in New Zealand has enough cash to buy the week's groceries? Even worse at this time there are over 1,400 people unaccounted for, unable to call for help or let loved ones know they are at the very least alive or at the bare minimum get on Facebook and mark themselves as safe. Where is the climate adaptation and resilience plans for our critical services and basic needs such as food?

There is a simple solution available today.

After a very sleepless night I revisited my Fujitsu proposal from 2012 and have done some investigation and you will be amazed at how simple it is. Starlink is the game changer here. You can buy the base station hardware for $520 NZD and just have a month-to-month plan (no lock in contracts) that costs $159. I heard an emergency manager interviewed on TV saying that’s all very good to talk about Starling but you need power. Well a quick google search of “Can you run Starlink from your car cigarette lighter will answer that question.”

For a more stable solution you can get a small petrol generator and inverter online from Kogan ($429) or you can look at a more sustainable solution sold locally at Torpedo7 that includes an Eco Flow Battery pack ($799) and fold out 110 kw solar panels ($599). Given I hear that the line for the only petrol station currently open in Napier is almost a km long I suggest you go for the solar option.

So, for less than $1,000 (or $1,918 for the solar option) you can have your own Starlink set up and have the ability to charge your phone and maybe give your home freezer a short boost. They also have special modifications that can go on your vehicle. Another option is dropping these units into remote areas. I would go for the solar option here and all up with the Starlink Satellite (5kgs), Eco Flow Battery (5kg) and Solar panels (4kg) you have a very light payload of 14kg that could even be carried in by a seasoned tramper. Drones can even drop these off to remote locations or at the very minimum get them over flooded rivers.

I have just ordered all the kit mentioned last night and when I collect it all will be grabbing the first available flight from Auckland to Napier with the intention of setting up a free internet café from Mums back yard. I will let you know how I get on with testing and if you are interested and have a facility in Napier such as a store or critical need for this then get in touch. I will do my best to help you out when I am there.

starlink emergency

For those of you like me waiting to hear from loved ones I only hope that this will be the last time we all have to go through this. It is 2023 we have the technology; we just need to get a bit smarter.

About Lee Stewart:

Lee is a sustainability professional with close to 20 years’ experience working across Australia, UK, Japan and New Zealand in startups, consulting, and large multinationals. He is a qualified speaker and mentor trained by Al Gore and has worked for Global IT giant Fujitsu as the Regional Head of Sustainability where he developed several sustainability technology solutions including the multi award winning Digital Owl Solution. He recently left his role as Head of Sustainability from Global Dairy Giant Fonterra to set up his own consultancy ESG Strategy where his focus is on helping boards and exec teams with enhancing and developing a meaning full Sustainability and ESG Strategies.

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