The manhunt began in the late hours of December 9, 1991. The suspect had gone on a murderous rampage that left a sheriff, two deupties and the wife of another sheriff dead in the town of California.
The killings began at 7:30 p.m. on the suspect’s front porch and continued throughout the night and early morning hours in and around this small central Missouri community.
Among the resources that the Missouri State Highway Patrol brought into the search was a portable satellite communications system that provided voice, data and facsimile communications between search command center at the California City Hall and the Patrol’s headquarters in Jefferson City. The decision to deploy the system proved to be a wise one.
Local residents were urged to stay at home and lock their doors. Schools and businesses remained closed as Highway Patrol and other local law enforcement officials surrounded the area and conducted a house-to-house search.
“We’ve had a manhunt like this occur every year since 1985,” said James Lundsted, Communications Engineer for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, “and experience had taught us that if we can contain the area for up to five days, we’ll normally get our man.”
Even though few residents ventured from their houses during the search, they did continue to communicate with each other and concerned friends and relatives over the telephone. In fact, the volume of calls into and out of town quickly overwhelmed the capacity of the local telephone switching center.
If the Patrol had to rely upon this network for telecommunications, search efforts would have been seriously impaired
But, because the portable satellite system, designed and provided by NetLink, allowed the law enforcement officials to bypass the local communications network, communications between the command center and headquarters continued flawlessly.
The original impetus for purchasing the system was provided by a tornado in 1985. The twister touched down near the Southeastern Missouri city of Sikeston.
Among the casualties was a microwave tower that provided virtually all of the voice and data service to that portion of the state.
While the Highway Patrol maintains their own statewide radio network, “The communications requirements, primarily inquiries from other state agencies regarding public health needs and disaster assessment in the affected area, were beyond the capabilities of our network,” stated Lundsted.
After the 1985 incident, concerned state agencies including the Highway Patrol, National Guard and State Emergency Management Agency reviewed the alternative telecommunications technologies to determine which would best ensure that a similar “blackout” would not occur again. That alternative proved to be satellite communications, or more specifically, a portable satellite system.
In 1990, the state took delivery of the satellite system that consists of one trailer-mounted and one “fly-away” unit.
The 16' trailer comes equipped with a 2.4 meter antenna and an equipment enclosure that houses the system’s electronics. The enclosure has a HVAC system that protects not only the components, but the system operator in inclement weather.
The “fly-away” package has a 1.8 meter antenna and electronic components that are designed to fit in several footlocker-sized cases for easy transport. This unit can be loaded into an airplane, helicopter or even a pickup truck, and once at the site, it can be deployed and on the air within minutes.
These systems also integrate the most sophisticated technology in voice and data compression. Because the recurring cost of the satellite space segment can be expensive, it is imperative to “squeeze” the maximum amount of service out of the least amount of satellite bandwidth.
That’s where the compression equipment comes in. Using virtually the same amount of space segment that would normally be used for either one voice or one data link, the compression system can provide multiple voice (4 or more) and data (up to four) links simultaneously using ingenious multiplexing techniques.
The state plugs these voice circuits either right into their PBX, electronic key system or they can be set up for plain old single line telephones.
As for the data communications, since the system is digital from end-to-end, modems are not normally required and the data communication equipment can be interfaced directly to the compression system.
With this portable system, state officials can be anywhere within Missouri and communicating situation status reports, calls for back-up or any other information shortly after arriving at the scene, regardless of how remote the location or how devastated local communications may have become.
Back in California, the violent tragedy had a more fortunate ending.
The fugitive had forced his way into a local woman’s home. She however remained calm and eventually talked the man into releasing her unharmed.
After she had informed the authorities of his location, the suspect surrendered without further bloodshed.
Perhaps the State of Missouri had natural disasters, such as floods, tornadoes and earthquakes, in mind when they purchased the portable satellite system.
Nevertheless, they were able to employ it to help contain the man-made disaster that befell a little Missouri town in early December.
Chris Bigelow is Vice President of Marketing for NetLink, Inc., based in St. Louis.
This article adapted from Vol. 5 # 1.