Tuvalu Activates Fail-Safe Communications

The installation of Chatty Beetles and Barret High Frequency radio network in Tuvalu in July has secured the communication of weather, climate and other warning messages between its scattered islands. The new equipment, provided by the Early Warning System (EWS) network project and supported under the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA 2), will serve as a communications backup in the disaster-prone region in case of failure of the primary telecommunications and Internet services.

A baseline survey conducted in preparation of the project identified several weaknesses in the country’s communication facilities that could be of consequence during extreme events:

  • satellite phones only activated when an emergency arose;
  • phones were ineffective due to power supply problems in the outer islands; and
  • high frequency communication systems were timeworn, thus the transmitting observational information from remote stations back to Funafuti was a major challenge.

A fail-safe communication solution was needed that could provide the island with a stand-alone power supply. Chatty Beetles, a satellite SMS-based messaging system, and Barret High Frequency radios  were chosen. Designed by Rural Communications, the system uses radio and the Internet (RANET) for remote application where other communications do not exist, are unreliable, or where a simple notification is needed.

The operational costs are significantly lower than that of a satellite phone. The system operates independently from the local telecommunications network, is suitable for remote areas and can withstand heat and humidity. External sirens have been added to the equipment to serve as emergency alarms during a tsunami or severe weather event, while an internal siren sends a heads-up notification to meteorological officers.

Installed on all nine islands of Tuvalu, the new equipment also links remote meteorological observation stations on the outer islands with the main station in the capital, transmitting observational data every six hours. The two-system network is specifically designed to run on solar panels with a battery bank storage that can power the whole system 24/7 for 3 to 5 days during bad weather.

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