The anniversary of 9/11 brings up all sorts of searing memories; it's also important to consider how much progress has been made since then.
If first responders had suitable mobile communications equipment at the World Trade Center -- if firemen, cops and others had been able to efficiently communicate both with people in their own departments and across department lines -- the death toll would have been lower. Of course, no communications platform or business continuity infrastructure could have withstood the devastation of the planes' impact and the subsequent collapse of the towers. However, experts agree that a more flexible infrastructure would have maintained communications longer.
The vital question is whether things have changed five years later. The best way to do that is to look at what happened about a month short of the fourth anniversary of 9/11. Post mortems on Hurricane Katrina suggest that not much had changed. In "The Great Deluge," the excellent account of the hurricane and its aftermath, Douglas Brinkley, the son of newscaster David Brinkley and a New Orleans resident, wrote extensively on the communications breakdowns that added to and extended the suffering the city experienced.
This suggests that not a whole lot of progress was made between the fall of 2001 and the late summer of 2005. To be sure, the private sector has done a good job of creating equipment that can patch systems together. Wi-Fi and WiMax systems, for instance, often are mentioned as key components of an emergency communications platforms. Indeed, mesh networks' first major market is first responders.
The biggest step -- the creation of a single, nationwide swath of spectrum for first responders -- hasn't been taken. Congress is still attempting to revamp allocations to achieve the goal. Powerful forces are arrayed against the move.
It was unfortunate that such a system didn't exist when the WTC was first attacked 13 years ago. It gets increasingly unconscionable that nothing was done before Katrina and it's a travesty that the situation hasn't been corrected today.