A few days before Hurricane Matthew roared into the Caribbean, officials at By Light Professional IT Services in Arlington, VA, heard from the Defense Logistics Agency that the U.S. military might need commercial satellite capacity for relief efforts. By Light is a service-disabled veteran-owned business with a contract to provide the DoD with satellite communications and other SATCOM services when and where they are needed.

The hurricane passed directly over the southwestern peninsula of Haiti, killing more than 1,000 people, destroying thousands of homes, and leaving an estimated 1.4 million victims in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

Within three days, U.S. military personnel began arriving with supplies and equipment for the relief efforts to move food, water, medical supplies and temporary shelters to Red Cross and other aid workers in the affected areas. Nine military helicopters were on the scene to assist in moving the supplies. The Joint Task Force established a command center in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and set up a ground terminal to connect to Intelsat’s Galaxy 18 satellite. The satellite connection used Ku-band capacity to support first-responder communications and the coordination of relief efforts.

The U.S. Agency for International Development was the lead relief agency and had teams on the ground to identify needs and then request military assistance to deliver supplies. Over the next two weeks, some 400 U.S. service members moved more than 250 metric tons of critical supplies, according to DoD officials.

“The day after the hurricane passed through, we were able to surge the U.S. military,” said Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command. “[We] were able to be on the ground, set up a joint task force to begin to provide that very critical unique enabler the U.S. military brings — the ability to move fast and move heavy loads of humanitarian aid to the hardest-hit areas at same time the international network was able to open up the roads from Port-au-Prince to the southwest.”

Jeff Adelman, Program Manager at By Light who coordinated the Galaxy 18 capacity with Intelsat General, said the satellite connection will provide support for the relief effort at least through the end of the year. Most U.S. military personnel sent to Haiti have returned to the United States, but a small communications team remains in place operating the ground terminal connected to the Intelsat satellite network.

“In a disaster such as this, satellites are the key link between relief teams on the scene and commanders coordinating the relief effort,” Adelman said. “We are able to work smoothly with Intelsat General when we get word that capacity will be needed, and then respond to the requirement by getting additional bandwidth online and providing phone support for downrange operators.”