Katrina communication troubles still a touchy subject

A top official in the Bush Administration is claiming that major hurdles preventing information-sharing among first responders in the Katrina response have been fixed.

Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, accuse the administration of scant progress on the issue.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison says that the most important post-Katrina communications problem was the inability of first responders to share information, and asserts that the problem has since been fixed.

'The big issue was working, making sure, having discipline, to have a unified command system set up where we're all planning together, we're sharing information together,' Paulison said on CBS News' Face the Nation news program this week. 'If that had been in place, you wouldn't have had the issue with the Superdome with buses not showing up when they were supposed to, you wouldn't have people being put in there without other people knowing they were there. So that's the most important piece for us.'

'And we've been working on that for the last several months to fix that. And we have done that,' Paulison added.

However, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee accused the Bush administration of an 'unconscionable' lack of progress in improving emergency communications for first responders since the Katrina disaster.

'The fact that Republicans in Washington blocked Democrats' efforts to ensure that our first responders were given the tools they needed to effectively communicate in an emergency four years after September 11 was inexcusable, but the fact that they are still resisting Democratic efforts to provide those resources today is simply unconscionable,' DNC communications director Karen Finney said in a press release.

The 9/11 Commission cited the inability of police and fire service radios to operate across jurisdictions as factors that contributed to that disaster. The bipartisan congressional panel that reported on Katrina also listed poor communications and incomplete information-sharing among first responders as major contributing factors to the chaotic government response following the hurricane.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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