The recent disasters caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the
However, a parallel already exists for that communications environment: military tactical communications. The two hurricanes gave us an up close and personal view of the requirements for tactical communications. With the loss of both local area and long-haul connectivity, coordination efforts to save lives, evacuate citizens, secure property and respond where most needed were severely degraded. The military has faced that challenge many times, and its actions can serve as a template for future domestic disaster response.
We watched the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross and ultimately the U.S. Defense Department bring their tools to bear to establish tactical communications in the disaster area. The lessons learned were not unlike what our Soldiers and Marines have been telling us for years: We need standards—technology standards, protocol standards, policy standards—and, above all, we need leadership.
Without standards and leadership, it would take weeks to establish military tactical communications. That would be unacceptable in combat, and it should not be accepted after a natural disaster. In the hurricane disaster zone, tactical communications were required to provide support quickly for those whose lives were disrupted by the storm. However, it took much too long for those who needed help.
As with all goals, defining is easier than achieving. But we have a military model on which to base our approach. First, we need standards that allow first responders to exchange voice and data with state and federal officials.
Over the years, SIGNAL Magazine has described standards focusing primarily on technology. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman offers some interesting ideas on standards in his book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. He offers that “common standards create a flatter, more level playing field.” That level playing field is necessary when coalition forces enter a theater as well as after a hurricane when infrastructure is gone, people are in need, and tactical communications are required sooner rather than later. Certainly, a more level playing field was required to support those along the
Second, leadership needs to be well-defined. When all leaders think that they are in charge, tactical communication networks are overloaded.
And, the issue is not which government entity or official assumes leadership. What is needed is an established leadership plan or philosophy that has been tested in exercises and can be stood up on the first day of a disaster relief effort. This unified leadership is necessary to establish effective communications among diverse entities, as military tactical communications have shown in operational environments.
A third item is one that is very familiar to military personnel: training and exercises. In the wake of Katrina and Rita, debate ensued as to whether authorities had a plan for a
The military knows well the value of exercises. When SIGNAL Magazine covered the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in the Iraq War, it noted how the 501st Signal Battalion was able to draw on experiences gleaned in
Whether you are talking about moving into
So the template exists for creating effective emergency response communications. Establishing emergency communications rapidly on the heels of a domestic catastrophe requires that authorities develop a plan that is rehearsed before disaster strikes—just as the military does. The military already has shown the way. Let us learn rather than reinvent.