Saturday, September 24, 2005

Comments on Gartner's blog - Hurricanes: The Impact

I'm glad to see Rich's response to some of the media hype about public safety communications during and following Hurricane Katrina, particularly in response to the Reed/Malamud article. His points are very accurate in my experience. Curiously, some of that is technical mountain rescue, too. I guess remote emergencies test technology much like disaster operations!

The most unfortunate part of rhetoric following Hurricane Katrina is that it obscures the true complexity of public safety communications problems that have been documented in depth by very thoughtful and well-intentioned researchers for years. Rich is right about simple=good. That's about the only sure bet.

On Thursday, New York State announced initiation of the project to build its Statewide Wireless Network (NYS SWN). It has approved a 20-year, $2 billion contract following release of an extensive RFP over three years ago. It will serve public safety and other governmental radio needs across the state, but not all of them. The complexity and cost of a system that all state and local public safety agencies in New York used would be considerably greater - assuming that everyone's very real operation needs could be met without the project collapsing under its own weight.

A national network of similar coverage and local capacity would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. As Rich notes, consider the cost and effort of building the equivalent of another national cellular system - but one that also covers areas that no cellular company could justify through ROI and in depth guaranteeing that no fireman in, say, New York City would get a busy signal the next time thousands of responders end up working in the area of a few square blocks. Now build that system so that it not only penetrates the dense urban jungle, shopping malls, casinos oozing radio frequency interference (RFI), and subways, but also the dense natural forests that absorb RF energy like electromagnetic sponges.

Multiply that cost and complexity by 60,000 police, fire, and EMS agencies serving the local jurisdictions that we as Americans jealously guard for "home rule" - each with natural public safety missions that we depend on.

Public safety communications is a broad and complex subject. It's a disservice to all those who depend on radios to serve and protect to suggest it's anything less.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Senate bill seeks survivable communications: "The Assure Emergency and Interoperable Communications for First Responders Act of 2005 would create a grant program to help develop and implement interoperable communications systems at the state and local levels. The bill would earmark $400 million in 2006 and increase funding annually to about $1 billion by 2010 for a total of $3.3 billion. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the committee’s ranking minority member, sponsored the bill. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also signed the bill.

The bill would create an Office for Emergency Communications, Interoperability and Compatibility within the Homeland Security Department. It would be responsible for promoting interoperability and establishing communications when terrorist attacks or natural disasters damage an area’s communications and power infrastructures."
In Katrina's Wake, Ham Radio Triumphs: "Wireless technology, while relatively new to many consumers, is of course not new at all. A few (very) old-timers remember the original 'wireless' of radio. The revolution wrought by the pioneers of wireless changed the world then, and the technology behind that revolution has been re-invented and re-applied time and again. Its pre-eminent incarnation today is our near-ubiquitous wireless communications infrastructure, which has freed us from the shackles of landlines and made our mobile lifestyles possible. Technology truly is great stuff.

Until, of course, a monster hurricane comes along to render it nearly useless. Here we see a scenario in which a flood literally swept away the new. As Hurricane Katrina's fury hammered the Gulf states on August 29, the communications infrastructure took a devastating hit. Telephone service, including wireless, became at first intermittent and then unusable in many localities. Where there was phone service, 911 switchboards were often unreachable due to the massive volume of calls. The response of local authorities, now termed 'confused' by deposed FEMA chief Michael Brown, wasn't helping much. The Gulf Coast was about to descend into darkness, chaos, and, worst of all for many, silence."
Radio upkeep is no small task in New Orleans: "To make sure nothing goes wrong during their Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, some public safety officials and M/A-COM technicians have gone so far as to sleep near the systems they’re trying to repair. Since Katrina hit Aug. 29, the company, which installed the city’s 800 MHz first responder radio system, has been supplying fuel for generators and repairing and maintaining tower sites."
Getting on-air in New Orleans: "Jan Edwards' heart sank when he saw the roadblock. It was Aug. 31, two days after the New Orleans police radio network was knocked down to 10 percent of its capacity by Hurricane Katrina. Edwards, a repair technician for M/A-Com of Lowell, desperately wanted to help. But at a causeway into New Orleans, state police and sheriff's deputies were turning away all vehicles. He didn't even have a chance to show them the letter he had from city officials granting him access.

It wasn't until two days later or so that M/A-Com was able to get a technician to the roof of a 39-story office tower near the Superdome and put a key antenna back online. The struggles of M/A-Com, which is owned by Tyco International Ltd., are just one component of the massive challenge workers face to restore infrastructure and make New Orleans safe. In the early 1990s, M/A-Com built a $26 million radio system for the city's police and fire departments and has maintained it since."
Grant to Help City Broaden NYC Radio Network: "A $6 million federal grant has been awarded to expand an emergency response radio network used by police officers, firefighters and other city workers to their counterparts in several suburban counties, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday. The Department of Justice grant is intended to broaden the existing UHF analog radio network, developed largely after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center revealed serious gaps in the ability of the police and firefighters to communicate during an emergency."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: first responders and large-scale crises: "As a result of the deadly and catastrophic events occurring in Louisiana and Mississippi, this appears to be a good time to look at what steps were taken by the Homeland Security Department prior to Hurricane Katrina.

The events of September 11, 2001, resulted in a greater focus on the role of first responders in carrying out the nation's emergency management efforts. The Department of Homeland Security is the primary federal entity responsible for ensuring that first responders, such as police, fire, emergency medical and public health personnel, have the capabilities needed to provide a coordinated, comprehensive response to any large-scale crisis."

Monday, September 19, 2005

A PDA in hand ...: "Four years ago, New York City's police and firefighters were unable to communicate with one another during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because of incompatible radios. As a result, many of them died and interoperability became a national priority. But more than two weeks ago, Hurricane Katrina's devastating effects on the Gulf Coast forced first responders and government officials to think about something else: How do you communicate in an area with no infrastructure or power?"
Congress Members Call for National System: "It was four years ago this month that our brave police officers, firefighters and other emergency response personnel raced into the smoldering buildings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to try to save the lives of thousands. Unfortunately, their efforts were hindered by a communications system that failed to allow these first responders to communicate with each other, something known as 'interoperability.'"

Sunday, September 18, 2005

PluggedIn: Technology that took on a hurricane: "While big media covered the mass destruction brought by Hurricane Katrina with helicopter images and satellite weather maps, blogs have been telling stories with similar force, but on a much more personal level. Linking to the Internet's global computer network with a combination of old-school and newfangled technologies -- namely backyard diesel generators, mobile phones and stubborn will -- several web sites related often graphic first-hand accounts and snapshots."
COPS OFFICE AWARDS $92.7 MILLION TO HELP FIRST RESPONDERS COMMUNICATE: "The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) today awarded $92.7 million to 26 law enforcement agencies to develop interoperable communications networks that enable emergency service personnel to communicate directly during crises. The grants will offset the cost of purchasing voice and data communications equipment, enhancing communications infrastructures, and project management."
FCC’s Martin calls for new public-safety bureau: "FCC Chairman Kevin Martin yesterday proposed establishing a new bureau within the FCC focused on public safety and homeland security after commissioners listened to three hours of testimony about communications struggles related to Hurricane Katrina."

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Harris Corporation's Metadata Approach Breaks New Ground in Intelligent Content Delivery: "In creating a new approach to content delivery, Harris Corporation (NYSE: HRS) is applying an intelligent 'instructional' layer to content metadata in its H-Class(TM) Content Delivery Platform, raising the bar for how metadata can be used to support workflow efficiency and new service provisioning. This novel approach dictates how metadata is utilized throughout the entire media life cycle -- through creation and ingest to consumption -- by applying behavioral attributes that record and measure how content is being used. This includes instructions on where that content is to playout -- to whom and what specific format or device. As a result, media and entertainment customers are able to unify every element of the digital supply chain from production through to management, distribution and delivery in order to realize additional revenue through more efficient content delivery.

[Ed. Note: Can public safety content be far behind?]"

Friday, September 09, 2005

After Katrina: Congressman Slams Comms Funding: "Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) late yesterday called on the White House to fund and implement an interoperable, inter-agency communication network for first responders in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast region of the United States. In a letter to President George W. Bush, Stupak cited widely reported communications-system breakdowns and inadequacies among military personnel and other emergency service workers as one of many reasons for his demand."

Monday, September 05, 2005

Charlottesville Fire Department to Assist with Katrina Communications Needs: "Charlottesville,Virginia Fire Department is sending equipment and personnel to hurricane Ravaged Gulf Coast by way of an Interoperability Unit to assist with communications,effective immediately. Extensive destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina has created severe challenges with communications and the Charlottesville Fire Department is deploying its communications interoperability unit to either Louisiana or Mississippi to aid rescue and law enforcement in the relief efforts."
New Orleans radio system flooded: "Operation of the New Orleans police radio system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has been plagued not only by floodwaters but by a lack of natural gas to power generators. Not only that, Louisiana State Police turned away repair technicians when they attempted to reach the city, according to an on-scene report the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International relayed to Federal Computer Week."

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Emergency communications wiped out in many areas: "Urban and search rescue teams from neighboring states are finding that some areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina lack any communications infrastructure and coordinated command and control efforts."
New Orleans Cops Use Single Radio Channel: "When the phones don't work, improvise. That's what emergency responders and civilians were forced to do in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which trashed the telephone system on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. Police in New Orleans, their main communications system knocked out, have been taking turns talking on a single radio channel with their walkie talkies. The Mississippi National Guard even resorted to ancient battlefield tactics, sending runners back and forth among commanders with information."
"Local emergency teams resist plain-language radio rules": "A month before the United States begins tying antiterrorism grants to recipients' observance of a new national emergency system, U.S. officials are cautioning state and local agencies against 'continued resistance' to the system. As of Oct. 1, prospective recipients of federal terrorism grants must show 'good-faith efforts' to implement the National Incident Management System, Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Don Jacks said Thursday. Full compliance with the system is required after a year."