Satellite phones are devices that allow users to make and receive calls from anywhere in the world, using satellites orbiting the Earth instead of terrestrial cell towers. They are often used by military personnel, journalists, explorers, and emergency responders who operate in remote or dangerous areas where conventional communication networks are unreliable or unavailable.
But why would the Senate, the upper chamber of the United States Congress, need satellite phones? According to a recent report by The Washington Post, the Senate Sergeant at Arms has ordered 200 satellite phones for senators and their staff, citing the need to ensure “continuity of government” in case of a major disaster or crisis that disrupts normal communication channels.
The report does not specify what kind of disaster or crisis could warrant such a measure, but some possible scenarios include a cyberattack, a terrorist attack, a nuclear war, a solar storm, or a pandemic. In any of these situations, satellite phones could provide a lifeline for senators to communicate with each other, with the executive branch, with state and local authorities, and with the public.
The Senate is not the only branch of government that has prepared for such contingencies. The executive branch has several secure facilities and vehicles that can serve as mobile command centers in case of an emergency, such as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) under the White House, the Presidential Aircraft (Air Force One), and the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), a modified Boeing 747 that can fly the president and other officials to safety. The judicial branch also has contingency plans for relocating Supreme Court justices and other federal judges to undisclosed locations in case of a crisis.
The purchase of satellite phones by the Senate is part of a broader effort to enhance the resilience and security of the legislative branch. The Senate has also taken steps to improve its physical and digital defenses, such as installing metal detectors, increasing security personnel, upgrading IT systems, and conducting emergency drills.
The satellite phones are expected to be delivered by June 2023 and will cost about $1.5 million. They will be distributed to senators and their staff on a voluntary basis and will require training and testing to ensure proper use. The phones will also have encryption features to protect sensitive information from eavesdropping or hacking.
The Senate’s decision to acquire satellite phones may seem like an extreme or paranoid move to some observers, but it reflects a realistic assessment of the potential threats and challenges that could face the nation in the future. With the war in Ukraine to China taking Taiwan, comms will need to be up to keep our government running.