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Communications Breakdown

The coverage of a post-Katrina New Orleans is like watching a train wreck that won't stop -- horrifying, heartbreaking, and impossible to turn away from, even if you can't stand to see another sad image. But yesterday I found myself getting increasingly frustrated and angry by the obvious lack of contingency planning and the poor execution on the part of the government, mostly state and local but also federal.We live in a country that is absolutely dependent upon communications technology to function, and in the aftermath of what was one of the fiercest storms to hit the U.S. mainland of course it is absolutely understandable why the communications infrastructure would be knocked out for a few days. But New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast is suffering from the lack of even effective low-tech communications. Times like these show how fast word can travel without telephone lines or cell towers. Rumors spread like wildfire but facts aren't necessarily reaching the people who really need them. A case in point was a CNN interview with FEMA Director during which he admitted the agency was unaware until yesterday that thousands of refugees, including many children and the elderly, were at the city's convention center with no food or water.

Sure, it is easy to be an armchair quarterback from a thousand miles away in a location with power, running water, and broadband, but one thing is clear, for all of the pressure being placed on telecom and utilities to restore services after a storm, what is even more importance is to have a person in charge with a plan -- and a method to disseminate that plan to people without the trappings of modern communications systems. A low-tech communications mechanism should be part of both government, corporate, and even family contingency plans.

Estimates say it will be months, maybe even longer, before parts of New Orleans are really livable again. But thanks to some good advance planning, some Gulf Coast companies continue to run. On the flip side, just as criminals are taking advantage of chaos to steal cyber criminals are already capitalizing on the tragedy.

In any event, the people of the Gulf Coast need all of our support. A number of technology companies are stepping up to the plate to help. Hopefully, things will take a turn for the better soon and someone will step up to the forefront to finally communicate a clear and workable plan to move forward.