Radios serve as a closed-loop communication system and are typically used in patrol vehicles, in boats, and by remote patrols. This allows them to remain in contact with their base, which can establish communication with the main command center when in remote areas. Radios allow rangers to call for help or backup and to communicate with other rangers and bases.

Cell phones and towers can be an incredibly useful tool for Global Park Defense. Working in a park or protected area that already has cell phone coverage is advantageous. However, more often than not, cell service is inconsistent, if it exists at all.

In the limited parks that do enjoy cell service, the rollout and deployment of our Global Park Defense Strategy happens much quicker than in parks without service. If cell service already exists, we can usually use the existing service for our real-time trail camera networks, SMART program, and communications. We can either cover the more remote areas that do not have reliable signal strength with satellite phones and GPS units, or install strategically-placed cell signal repeaters.

Signal repeaters can usually be installed at a fraction of the cost of a full cell tower. If there is no existing cell phone infrastructure in place, you must weigh the options of providing remote communication devices (e.g. satellite phones) across the entire expanse, or building one or two cell towers which can cost upwards of US$100,000 each.

GPS communication devices are a key component of our Global Park Defense Strategy, especially where cell phone service is unreliable or nonexistent. They are used for navigation but can also send text messages via satellite to other GPS units, cell phones or an email address.

Rangers can now relay information back to base or to other units in real time, making the chances of survival much greater when confronted with an emergency. Custom maps can be loaded on to the GPS units or made from data logged on the unit. Patrol routes, points of interest or incident sites can all be logged and compiled in a database. That data can then be analysed to determine areas with the most activity, allowing rangers to customize patrol routes accordingly.

Most parks are understaffed, but it is nonetheless critical to be able to cover large areas of interest. In most cases, focusing patrols and valuable resources in areas of need is the most efficient way to make up for lack of manpower. Coupled with the information gathered from strategically placed camera traps, we can use GPS logs to reduce wasted patrols in areas with no illegal activity.

Satellite phones and satellite internet devices can be used virtually anywhere on the planet, regardless of cell coverage or internet service. There are two basic types of satellite systems used for satellite communication: Low earth orbit satellites, or LEO satellites, and geostationary systems, or GEO satellites. LEO satellite systems consist of a number of satellites orbiting the earth to provide a coverage network over most of the planet.

These satellites are constantly moving across the sky. As a satellite phone communicates with the LEO satellites, they hand off the phone’s signal from one satellite to another as each one orbits out of range. This means that the user needs to find a clear area, with no tree cover, and the signal can be inconsistent.

GEO satellites, on the other hand, orbit at a very high altitude. GEO satellites are almost 22,000 miles high, as opposed to LEO satellites, which  orbit at around 1,000 miles above the earth. GEO satellites are positioned over the equator at various points around the globe. Their orbital speed matches the rotation of the earth, so the satellite always appears at the same point in the sky.

Users may have to hike a bit to find a clearing with a signal, but once a signal is obtained it remains relatively consistent due to the fixed position of the satellites. This allows for longer phone calls, and also means that GEO systems tend to be better for satellite internet devices than LEO satellites. We utilize both systems for emergency communication, coordination, and cooperation. They are a lifeline where there is no other communication available, and greatly increase safety for our GPD teams on the ground.

Fortunately, satellite phones, satellite internet hot spots, and satellite sleeves for smartphones have become more affordable of late. This means for US$500-1200 you can provide communication for the most remote areas of a park. Rolling out a digital radio communication system can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but satellite devices can provide parkwide communications for a fraction of the cost. Unlike digital radio systems, satellite devices don’t require a massive infrastructure investment up front, so we can get comms set up quickly and affordably.

Command and control systems give park authorities, ranger teams, and law enforcement a complete view of all threats, patrol movements, interdictions and arrests, location of cameras and sensors, and aerial surveillance. Command centers integrate all data feeds — video, radar and radio — into a single system for national park rangers to effectively deploy and communicate during interdiction missions. Further, locations of illegal activities and evidence collection for ticketing and prosecution of offenders is securely stored in a central database accessible by park rangers and enforcement staff.

SMART patrols increase the efficiency of park surveillance and protection. The Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) is a software tool that assists rangers and managers in reporting and managing data. The data can then be analyzed to improve adaptive management practices by compiling timely and accurate information on where, how, and by whom poaching, illegal logging and other direct threats to biodiversity are occurring.

SMART allows law enforcement teams to compile data from multiple sources, creating maps that are ideal for showing performance and patrol coverage, as well as clusters of arrests and high threat areas. It virtually eliminates the waste of precious man hours and resources by identifying areas in need of monitoring. This is crucial as many parks are understaffed, underfunded, and responsible for vast expanses of land. Patrols that use SMART technology enable transparent monitoring of the effectiveness of anti-poaching efforts by park authorities and community groups. SMART has proven to be highly effective in empowering park staff, boosting motivation and increasing interdictions and arrests.

SMART data comes from various sources. Rangers use handheld GPS communicators, cell phones, or satellite phones to log and relay information while on patrol. They use these not only to communicate with other rangers, base camp, and law enforcement, but they also track their own movements and mark areas of interest. GPS locations of spent shell casings, cut wood, mining camps, tracks, and any other signs or evidence are all logged and stamped with location, time and date.

Cellular trail cameras are also important for feeding critical, time-sensitive information to rangers on SMART patrol. The cameras send information immediately to email and cell phones for analysis, giving ranger patrols the opportunity to locate, intercept, and if necessary, apprehend and possible criminals. All of this information is put into a database and then projected into a map format, allowing rangers and management to strategically target criminals and areas most prone to wildlife crimes.

Focusing manpower and resources on high-risk and high-incident corridors results in more arrests and better prevention of wildlife crime. SMART provides us the best opportunity to effectively protect national parks that are understaffed, underfunded, and where rangers suffer from a lack of equipment and training.