Villages cut off from the world by storm Alex are testing a solution to “stay connected”

“There was no longer any road access. More electricity. And therefore no longer any possible communication with the outside world. Loetitia Loré, the mayor of Venanson, remembers it like it was yesterday. On the evening of October 2, 2020, while three valleys of the Alpes-Maritimes are ravaged by storm Alex and its deadly floods, the perched village is left in the dark. And unable to be heard.

Electric cables, fixed networks, mobiles… everything had been taken a little lower. “We only had the radio of the firefighters who got stuck with us,” recalls the elected official. The 140 inhabitants are then cut off from the world, unable to reassure their loved ones. During many days. Since then, the small municipality has acquired a satellite telephone. “We know very well that we are not immune to a new deluge, supports Loetitia Loré. But that’s not ideal. The use is very restricted, not open to everyone and we often have connection problems. »

The answer, to guarantee these isolated villages to escape the blackout in the event of new disasters, could come from Orange. After passing through Breil-sur-Roya and Tende, also in the Vésubie valley, last week, the operator was therefore in Venanson on Monday to continue the life-size test of the “emergency telecommunications” device that it develops precisely to supply these communities.

Ten hours of battery operation

“Part of the trauma for the inhabitants of the affected valleys was not being able to give news, supports Grégory Roger, marketing product manager in charge in particular of adaptation to climate change at the telephony giant. The idea is to allow them to stay connected. The proposed solution, called SafetyCase, fits in a small 70 kg trunk on wheels.

“There is a satellite data transfer module and a WiFi router that allows dozens of simultaneous connections to find the network for any smartphone, presents the manager. Everything is powered by new generation batteries that guarantee ten hours of operation. And there is also an inverter which allows continuous use if the power is still connected, but unstable as is often the case in severe weather. »

In the town hall of Loetitia Loré, we knocked down the circuit breaker for a simulation in almost real conditions. And after fifteen minutes of installation and the installation of mobile antennas on one of the terraces, the system, which also contains an HF radio, a digital tablet, four walkie-talkies, road maps, a lamp and even a Swiss army knife, is fully operational.

“Avoid unnecessary panic”

A videoconference was held with an elected official from a neighboring town and a resident came to test the “venanson_public” Wifi opened by the device. “Even gendarmes in the area were able to connect. The solution is also aimed at rescue forces who increasingly have to use business applications on smartphones to manage interventions,” continues Grégory Roger.

The mayor of the village of Venanson is already convinced. “It seems very easy to use. The link would never be broken with the emergency services and the authorities. And it could avoid a lot of unnecessary panic by allowing citizens to talk to their families, ”says Loetitia Loré.

But for his town hall to obtain one, it will still have to wait. For the moment, Orange has not scheduled any release date, nor revealed prices. “Experiments must continue to improve the product,” says the operator. In Valdeblore, still in the Alpes-Maritimes, this Tuesday, the operator plans to test its solution in municipalities in Île-de-France, which could be affected by floods of the Seine or the Oise, or in Brittany.


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