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Out of Tragedy, Hope Rises in the Form of New Sat-Comms Tool

James Kubik lost a childhood friend when she died in a boating accident. What’s worse is that communication equipment, including marine radios, was on board but inaccessible. It spurred Kubik to develop his own device.

An aircraft dropping fire retardant ahead of an approaching wildfire.
A firefighting aircraft drops retardant ahead of the Oak Fire on July 24, 2022, near Jerseydale, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/TNS)
Often out of tragedies rise gleams of hope.

That may be the case with James Kubik’s Somewear satellite communications tool that he developed after a friend died in a sailing accident.

The friend and her sister and father were separated from their boat and had no way to call for help. The friend drowned. The marine radios and other safety equipment were later found to be stored below deck, useless.

It ate at Kubik that communications equipment on board that vessel couldn’t help his friend. So, he and co-founder Alan Besquin set about developing their own device, which has been in use for about three years and was recently deployed during the Oak Fire in California and soon after amidst the flooding in Kentucky.

“That was a realization for me, that technology is only as powerful as it is accessible,” Kubik said. “If something is not accessible in the moment of need, it’s useless.”

Thus arrived Somewear’s sat-comm device. A small hot spot the size of a hockey puck, it can convert any smartphone into a satellite communicator when other forms of communication are down for whatever reason.

“One of the beautiful things is we have iOS apps, Android apps and a web application integration with other third-party systems like ATAK [Android Tactical Assault Kit],” Kubik explained.

The device can be used on the commercial side — as a tool for mountaineers or hikers — and in the public safety realm where filling in gaps in situational awareness may mean the difference between life or death.

Kubik described the PACE communications plan — Primary, Alternate, Contingent and Emergency — and how his tool can quickly fill gaps and maintain 80 percent of the situational awareness that may have been lost during a disaster.

“One of the things that we’ve noticed is that those plans are sometimes a little tenuous,” he said. “They are a little bit fragile and quite often you really only have the primary or you have the primary and then you jump all the way to the emergency, and you lose a lot of capability in that gap.”

He said his device can fill those gaps when working with government agencies when they might have lost LTE connectivity. In this situation, the Somewear device can fill in as a light bandwidth radio allowing for continued situational awareness among disparate agencies.

That was the case in California recently during the Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park when the device brought together local, state, federal and commercial response teams into one operation to manage the fire.

Just after that was the Kentucky floods, where agencies lost connectivity to the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) network. In both of those cases, a National Guard squadron was a Somewear user and connected the various agencies.

“That happened really quickly and was tough to watch because they had that massive LMR network, and once the flooding started, they completely lost it and that was their primary PACE plan.”