States not prepared for '06 hurricanes

Eight hurricane-prone states still lack interoperable communications in the face of the 2006 storm season, according to a new report from the First Response Coalition.

The report, titled The Imminent Storm 2006: Vulnerable Emergency Communications in Eight Hurricane Zone States, examined interoperability efforts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Weather forecasters predict an active and dangerous 2006 hurricane season, so improving communications interoperability is imperative, the coalition said.

FRC found a disparity among the eight states' interoperability plans. South Carolina and Florida have statewide 800MHz networks available for all jurisdictions to connect to, creating effective interoperable communications, according to the report.

Texas links networks from different departments in areas where the networks overlap but does not have a statewide system. Louisiana has an older statewide analog network that connects state agencies but does not interconnect with local public safety departments, the report stated.

Mississippi has 40 different radio systems, and while its Wireless Communication Commission has met to discuss improvements, nothing has been agreed upon.

Alabama's Emergency Management Agency provides radios to first responders during disasters but has no statewide network.

The Georgia Homeland Security Office and Emergency Management Agency is deploying an $8 million VOIP interoperability network.

North Carolina has an interoperability plan, but it is not scheduled to be completed until 2010.

FRC's report has five recommendations to speed interoperable communications implementation:
  • The Homeland Security Department's Safecom program must expeditiously complete the 'National Interoperability Baseline Survey'
  • The federal government should coordinate with state and local agencies to implement regional emergency communications interoperability
  • The federal government, states and localities must do a better job of tracking the disbursement and allocation of grant monies
  • If the nation is to make serious progress in achieving interoperability, there must be improvements in the ability to coordinate spending and the transparency of federal grants
  • There must be both coordination and cooperation between agencies and at various levels.

Ethan Butterfield is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.


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