SpaceX Starlink brings Internet to emergency responders in wildfire areas

Pictures of a SpaceX broadband-satellite dish and wildfire-ravaged areas of Washington State.
Enlarge / A Starlink user terminal and wildfire-devastated areas seen in images shared by Washington state’s Emergency Management Division.

SpaceX Starlink is providing Internet access to Washington state emergency responders in areas ravaged by wildfires. The group has deployed seven Starlink user terminals (i.e. satellite dishes) since it began using the service in early August, as CNBC reported yesterday:

“I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” as Starlink, Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC in an interview Monday.

The broadband service has helped both emergency responders and families in wildfire-stricken areas. Hall “has set up terminals in areas that were burned severely to provide evacuated families with wireless calling and Internet access to file insurance claims,” CNBC wrote. Hall said he also “did setup to allow kids to do some of their initial schooling.”

Hall said Starlink has “easily double[d] the bandwidth” compared to traditional satellite broadband and consistently provides latency of less than 30ms.

Traditional geostationary satellites that orbit at altitudes of more than 35,000km provide latency to residential customers of about 600ms, according to Federal Communications Commission measurements, making them a poor substitute for cable or fiber. Starlink, with its low-Earth orbits of 540km to 570km, can deliver something much closer to the experience provided by wired broadband services, despite skepticism expressed by the FCC.

Compared to Starlink, Hall said that traditional satellite provides “a lot less speed and bandwidth and a lot higher latency in a much larger package.” On Monday, Washington’s Emergency Management Division said on Twitter that it’s happy to have Starlink “as emergency responders look to help residents rebuild the town of Malden, WA that was overcome by wildfires

SpaceX’s internet-from-space Starlink system helping first responders fight fires in Washington

Responders fighting wildfires in Washington are getting some extra help from SpaceX and the company’s internet-from-space Starlink initiative. SpaceX loaned the Washington Emergency Management Division a handful of user terminals that can tap into the company’s Starlink satellites, providing internet to rural areas where first responders are battling raging wildfires.

SpaceX is still at the very beginning of building out its Starlink constellation, which could consist of nearly 12,000 satellites when it’s complete. That number of satellites could beam broadband internet services to every spot on Earth at all times from relatively low orbits, potentially providing global internet coverage from space. There’s still a ways to go. So far, SpaceX has launched nearly 800 satellites, though dozens have also been taken out of orbit. SpaceX plans to start beta testing in the Washington area with the satellites that remain in orbit.

“What happened is that they happened to have satellites that could reach our area,” Steven Friedrich, a spokesperson for the Washington Emergency Management Division, wrote to The Verge in a message.

The Washington Emergency Management Division is using two of SpaceX’s user terminals to receive broadband from overhead satellites. One is located near Malden, Washington, which was devastated by wildfires, and another is located near a smaller fire dubbed the Sumner-Grade Wildfire in western Washington. “Without the terminal, internet would be nearly impossible to achieve” near the Malden area, according to Friedrich. “My understanding is this is the first [public] use of Starlink and the partnership their technical experts have had with our team in the state [Emergency Operations Center] has been invaluable,” Friedrich said.

Washington emergency responders use SpaceX Starlink satellite internet

Washington Emergency Management Division

The Starlink satellite internet network that SpaceX is developing has been used in the field by Washington state emergency responders in recent weeks, the first early application of the company’s service to be disclosed.

Washington’s state military, which includes its emergency response division, began employing Starlink user terminals in early August to bring internet service to areas devastated by wildfires. User terminals are the small devices on the ground that connect to the satellites. The emergency division has seven Starlink user terminals, which it is deploying with early success.

“I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” as Starlink, Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC in an interview Monday.

How Washington’s using Starlink

Starlink is the name for SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build an interconnected internet satellite network, also known as a “constellation,” to deliver high-speed internet to anywhere on the planet.

The full Starlink network is planned to have about 12,000 satellites flying in what is known as low Earth orbit, much closer to the surface than traditional broadband satellites. Hall, whose division has used other satellite broadband services, said “there’s really no comparison” between Starlink and traditional networks, where the satellites are farther away from the Earth in Geosynchronous or medium earth orbits.

“Starlink easily doubles the bandwidth” in comparison, Hall said, noting that he’s seen more than 150% decreases in latency. “I’ve seen lower than 30 millisecond latency consistently,” he said.

Hall said that, with other traditional services, it typically takes between 30 minutes to an hour to set up a satellite connection, “with a lot less speed and bandwidth and a lot higher latency in a much larger

Washington emergency responders first to use SpaceX’s Starlink internet in the field: ‘It’s amazing’

  • Washington’s state military, which includes its emergency response division, began using Starlink user terminals in early August to bring internet service to areas devastated by wildfires.
  • “I have spent the better part of four or five hours with some satellite equipment trying to get a good [connection]. So, to me, it’s amazing,” Washington state’s emergency telecommunications leader Richard Hall told CNBC.
  • Washington has used Starlink to get regions “zero day communications,” Hall said.



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The Starlink satellite internet network that SpaceX is developing has been used in the field by Washington state emergency responders in recent weeks, the first early application of the company’s service to be disclosed.

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Washington’s state military, which includes its emergency response division, began employing Starlink user terminals in early August to bring internet service to areas devastated by wildfires. User terminals are the small devices on the ground that connect to the satellites. The emergency division has seven Starlink user terminals, which it is deploying with early success.

“I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable” as Starlink, Richard Hall, the emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, told CNBC in an interview Monday.

How Washington’s using Starlink

Starlink is the name for SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build an interconnected internet satellite network, also known as a “constellation,” to deliver high-speed internet to anywhere on the planet.

The full Starlink network is planned to have about 12,000 satellites flying in what is known as low Earth orbit, much closer to the surface than traditional broadband satellites. Hall, whose division has used other satellite broadband services, said “there’s really no comparison” between Starlink and traditional networks, where the satellites are farther away from