Four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the federal government has failed to enact crucial homeland security reforms that could have saved lives and improved the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina, according to a report to be issued today by former members of the Sept. 11 commission. Local emergency officials are still unable to reliably communicate with one another during disasters, the federal government has no clear system of command and control for responding to a crisis. Thomas H.
After surviving Hurricane Katrina's initial blow, the radio communications system for the New Orleans police and fire departments dissolved as its radio towers lost their backup power generators in the ensuing flood. Some of the equipment could have been brought back up quickly, except that technicians were blocked from entering the submerged city for three days by state troopers who were themselves struggling with an overwhelmed radio system from a different manufacturer. Four years after the 2001 terror attacks exposed the need for more robust, interconnected communications during such calamities, with nearly a billion dollars appropriated by Congress for the task last year, the United States still lacks uniform systems that can keep all emergency responders in touch. Since 2001, the federal government has given $8.6 billion to states for equipment, first responder training and disaster exercises. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security gave the states $2.1 billion, of which $925 million was spent on or earmarked for communications equipment upgrades. The department, however, does not tell states what to buy, though it stresses that any system deployed in the field should be able talk to another agency's system, known as "interoperability" in industry parlance.
[Commentary] Katrina overwhelmed the nation's complex communications system, raising serious questions about whether federal and local governments need new powers to organize a rapid response by the wireless, wire, cable, satellite, and broadcast industries. Moreover, it seems clear that first responders ought to have a resilient, mobile wireless data network that they can share. Fixing this is not difficult. There are some concrete steps the United States can and should take. The important thing to understand is that we know how to do this. The pieces to put together a national emergency response system are well understood. They include WiFi networks, dedicated spectrum for emergency responders, and standard off-the-shelf technology that enables emergency responders to receive pages, talk to each other, do simple text messaging, transmit photographs, and retrieve maps. The basic task is straightforward: every single emergency responder in the United States should be equipped with a simple Emergency Transponder (ET) that can receive pages and allow at least voice and text communications with other workers. We think such a device could be built for as little as $150. It would be a trivial task for the government to offer a rebate on the 3.2 million needed devices.
Amid ever more shocking images and mounting casualties, big media corporations on Wednesday announced millions of dollars in aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which has transformed the historic and heavily populated city of New Orleans into a virtual underwater hell and decimated areas of Mississippi and Alabama.
Walt Disney unveiled corporate contributions of $2.5 million: a $1 million donation to the American Red Cross for immediate relief efforts; $1 million for rebuilding efforts targeted at children's charities; and $500,000 for volunteer centers. Viacom is planning a $1 million cash donation to the American Red Cross and a worldwide employee matching gift program directed to the agency. Its divisions CBS, BET, UPN, MTV Networks, Infinity Radio and outdoor will develop special programming and offer ad space and airtime for public service announcements from the Red Cross and other agencies.
Local TV and radio stations will do the same in their communities. Time Warner, the world's biggest media company, said it will start by matching
$1 million in employee contributions made to the American Red Cross.