Seven Years Later, Communications Tools Show Some Improvement

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The seventh anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is a good time to look at what progress has been made in the ability of people to communicate during a crisis.


It seems that the emergencies of the moment are meteorological, not terrorist. Hurricane Hanna already has hit the Gulf of Mexico and run up the east coast, and Ike is threatening Texas, a bit further west in the gulf. Clearly, this is an area of concern to any business in the south, southeast and even northeastern portions of the country. Experts say that satellite systems are a good alternative to cellular networks, which can fall victim to flooding. This release doesn't say too much of substance about Iridium, but does point out that it can interoperate with UHF, VHF and other emergency radio systems.


The memories of 9/11 -- all of them -- remain vivid, including the inability of emergency services to communicate effectively. Not only is this a time of remembrance, but also of looking ahead to the election of a president less than two months from now. This SF Gate piece looks in general at Senators McCain's and Obama's homeland security plans. Both pay attention to communications, and in much the same language. McCain says that his administration will provide first responders with additional spectrum and develop an interoperable emergency communications system. Obama will increase technical assistance to first responders, fund systems and accelerate the turnover of broadcast spectrum.


Cross-agency communication, especially when it is not common and is instituted when the technical and human stress is at its zenith, is understandably difficult. It is vital, though. This interesting commentary reports that Maryland is mandating that state police, fire and EMS agencies jointly create a communications infrastructure in the 700 MHz band. The blogger says that costs are unknown, but the project will draw on a $22.9 million federal grant. An immediate benefit will be that personnel from two agencies are less likely to respond to a call without knowing what the other is doing. Such a system also would be a huge step forward for dealing with unexpected emergencies.


This is the kind of move that can pay big dividends in an emergency. This piece, originally published by The Chicago Tribune but posted by FireRescue, a good resource on emergency issues, says that the new Notify Chicago system will send information to people via text during an emergency. This advances the current system, which calls home phones. The story says non-residents, such as people with elderly relatives in the city, can sign up for the service.


This press release from the Department of Homeland Security trumpets strides that it claims have been made since 9/11. The list covers a broad area. Among those that most directly involve telecommunications and IT are an expansion of biometrics, an e-verification system and increased cyber security. Communications technology is a key element of most of the items on the long list.


Nothing will alleviate the awful memories of that day seven years ago. But the damage from such a crisis, either natural or man-made, can be somewhat lessened by good communications between first responders from different agencies and between those folks and the public.