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From tragedy to war, GlobeCast keeps uplinks

Nov 5, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures. That’s why GlobeCast employees thought nothing of brazenly knocking on the doors of lower Manhattan residents on Sept. 11 and asking to use their phone lines. Within a few hours of the attacks, GlobeCast had successfully negotiated with several apartment dwellers near ground zero to use their phones lines, since cellphone service was spotty at best.
The company needed to communicate internally and externally with customers to deliver its satellite news-gathering services to news organizations around the world. In the midst of the tragedy, GlobeCast wanted to make sure its customers-news agencies-could get the word out to their audiences.
GlobeCast is an international broadcast services provider, and the U.S. arm of the company, GlobeCast America, is based in Miami. GlobeCast America counts about 500 clients but was stretched to the limits on Sept. 11 and the following days when about 90 percent of its clients needed to use its satellite news-gathering services, which include satellite trucks, production crews and uplink services. GlobeCast’s quick response to the attacks made it possible for many news organizations to provide live on-the-scene coverage.
“By far, this was the biggest event any of us had covered,” said Bob Behar, president and CEO of GlobeCast America, who has been with the company for 25 years. Within 45 minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, GlobeCast already had a satellite truck in place there to provide coverage, and it had sent an e-mail alert to customers letting them know what services it could provide that day. News organizations from Univision to the BBC to France’s TF1 took advantage of such services.
Coordinating the coverage for such a monumental story was a logistical challenge. GlobeCast has teleports in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Salt Lake City, with Miami primarily servicing Latin America, Los Angeles handling Asia, and New York responsible for Europe. So GlobeCast established a dedicated communications bridge connecting its operations centers-essentially creating one big party line. The conference line was manned around the clock for the first 48 hours and has as many as 38 to 40 people on it at any one point.
“People had three to four phones on their ear at one time. You have to get crews, camera, sound, tell them where the truck is. It’s a massive coordination effort,” said Mr. Behar.
One of GlobeCast’s customers is Miami-based Univision, which, like most networks, went with 24-hour coverage of the events in the early days. Univision had used GlobeCast’s uplink services regularly in the past, relying on the company an average of one to two hours a day from both New York and Washington for news coverage, said Judy Bauer, satellite operations manager for the Spanish-language network.
But on Sept. 12, the network booked uplinks through GlobeCast for nearly 21 hours from New York and about 12 hours from Washington. The following day, Univision needed 18 hours of uplink services from Washington, while turning to a satellite truck in New York. “They helped us in getting a satellite truck in New York on the 12th and with extended uplinking out of New York and Washington. They basically got our signal up and running,” she said.
French broadcaster TF1 also relied on GlobeCast to cover the terrorist attacks, because its regular partner, the European Broadcasting Union, is not equipped to service all its customers during such overwhelming breaking news events. “We immediately needed to do a lot of live special-editions broadcast. We opened our broadcast at 10 o’clock [that] very morning, meaning 3 p.m. French time, and finished at 1 a.m. the next night. This never happened since the Gulf War,” said Loick Berrou, U.S. senior correspondent.
Since Mr. Berrou is based in Washington, GlobeCast provided a satellite truck and secured a position for him at Sandy Hook National Park in New Jersey until he was able to enter the city two days later. Once in Manhattan, a GlobeCast truck set up close to ground zero, where Mr. Berrou was stationed for a few days. “GlobeCast hired a three-camera truck-it was as hectic as it could be. They had to find a stage, canopy, huge lighting in less than six hours. The guys were able to establish a 25-yard phone connection, banging at neighbor’s doors on the West Side Highway, and everything went OK for four one-hour-long transmissions.”
Now that the story has begun to shift overseas, GlobeCast has sent four flyaway satellite units to the Middle East-with two stationed in Pakistan and two in the Northern Alliance territory in Afghanistan. “You’re not in friendly territory. The crews must have bulletproof vests,” said Mr. Behar.