Army looks to the stars to communicate

Army Col. Larry Klooster

Dawn S. Onley

CAMP SHELBY, Miss. -- The biggest challenge to communications operations in the Gulf region has been the disparate land mobile tactical radios used by the military services and state and local police and fire departments.

Officials say military services are pros at setting up communications infrastructures in emergency situations for soldiers to communicate with other military personnel. But in homeland defense missions, such as Hurricane Katrina search-and-rescue efforts, the military also needs to communicate with first responders and needs an infrastructure that interfaces with all of the interagencies, according to Army Col. Larry Klooster, who is functioning as the CIO of the J-6 for Joint Task Force Katrina.

The J-6 division, out of the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., is responsible for command, control, communications and computer systems for the Joint Staff.

"When we're moving through the neighborhoods, we need to communicate with police and other authorities. All of us have these different radios," said Klooster. "The technology that we have has not been implemented to share information across these boundaries. It's not that we can't communicate, but we can communicate better."

Klooster said the J-6 is working with the federal Homeland Security Department, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans to come up with a plan to get all of the agencies talking.

One of J-6's plans is to more heavily implement satellite phones, which can also serve as cell phones, and can be used by a number of agencies to communicate. Klooster said the J-6 has purchased some satellite phones and he has been pleased with the results.

"The cellular infrastructure is very fragile now," Klooster said. " We bought [a phone] that has capabilities of satellite phones or cell phones. This has been a real winner."

The J-6 is also planning to lease some temporary cell towers "to support DOD, to save lives and to protect property," Klooster added.

GCN staff writer Dawn Onley is embedded with the Army's 93rd Signal Brigade in Camp Shelby, Miss. She will be sending reports on how the military is helping restore communications in Mississippi, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.

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