Millions of workers have been forced into isolation and remote working, but for others, this is a daily reality, writes Alexandre de Luca, President, Marlink Enterprise
COVID-19 is many things to many people: first and foremost a human tragedy. Most illuminatingly - for the satellite industry at least - is that millions of people have got to experience something of the daily lives of the workers whose jobs regularly take them to remote locations and keep them there.
The restrictions on free movement, subsequent isolation, the struggle to connect with loved ones and availability of trustworthy support and advice; these are things that have become a reality for millions in the last few months. For humanitarian or energy workers it can be an everyday experience.
While it also demonstrates that much of the world can operate at a distance when it has to, not everyone has that luxury. Seafarers and humanitarian health workers alike have to be out there on the front line. Even once the current crisis has been brought under control, they will still need to be supported remotely with the tools and training, applications and data they need, often operating in the harshest environmental conditions.
Remote access and support are ideas whose time has come. This can be seen in the explosion in the last few months in use of remote equipment surveys and remote maintenance for critical updates. We have begun to comprehend the importance of IoT monitoring and reporting infrastructure as well as the boom in services like telemedicine as a supplement to voice and data communications.
Only a few years ago, telemedicine was firmly on the list of ‘nice to haves’, deemed expensive in capex terms, despite its short payback in practice. Likewise asset owners or operators could barely have imagined that regulators would be content to enable drones and crawlers conduct inspections, with the results analysed by AI.
The growth of installed bandwidth capacity means that remote access for healthcare and safety services can be secure and certified for operational support, regulatory compliance or personal welfare. When it comes to continuing to support developing countries, the need to keep connectivity in place becomes even more critical.
For mining engineers or doctors in the field, the personal welfare issue is among the most important.
As countries went into lockdown, websites and newsfeeds were full of advice about how to maintain good mental health as well as to keep up with physical activity.
For seafarers on ships for three months at a stretch or medics on a humanitarian mission with access only via the internet to friends and family, it would sound all too familiar. This jeopardy increased as restrictions on travel and transfers came into place as borders closed, meaning that even if relieved, workers were potentially unable to get home.
But still the world keeps turning and in the current crisis, the transport, energy and disaster relief sectors are rightly being seen as the critical links, once hidden, but now permanently associated with keeping medical supplies, food and raw materials moving, supporting aid and medical equipment deliveries across the supply chain.
Suddenly, understanding the location of everything from workers to containers, managing inventory or being able to access condition data and applications could be the difference between life or death, success or failure, not just between profit and loss.
Humans are gregarious people; we thrive on contact and interaction but we live in a changed world; this is the world of remote but critical workers; people who we must always remember are out there for us and who deserve our support.
When the world returns to some kind of normality, the very least we can do for these key workers is to ensure that the tools of remote connectivity are seen as a necessity, not a ‘nice to have’.