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Katrina's Communication Gaps

Much has been said already about the devastating impact the communications breakdown had on the Gulf Coast during and in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. Finger pointing from local to federal to state officials and then back again dominated news coverage and, no doubt, frustrated area residents as it seemed like the powers that be were not making the effort to help the stricken. Of course, there were also substantial technical communications issues contributing to this, issues that are once again coming to light following DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff's testimony this week before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.Chertoff testified that DHS and its sub agency FEMA that the lack of critical communications technology had a terrible impact on the government response to the disaster. Specifically, Chertoff said DHS needs interoperable gear, hardened communications, a tracking system for shipments, better surveillance resources, and more advanced hardware and software. He also cited insufficient Web site capacity to keep up with the high volume of disaster registrations.

So what is the upshot? Basically the governments failures extended to shockingly poor planning with regard to IT requirements. In an age where technology can be literally a life saver, it is stunning that federal and even state and local agencies were so woefully underprepared.

Sure you can argue that DHS really is focused on terrorism not natural disasters and that FEMA and DHS are odd bedfellows. That said, all the technology holes that Chertoff cited as contributing to FEMA's poor Katrina response need to be filled to answer the call effectively in the event of a terrorist attack. Hopefully, these are technology gaps that can be filled before another disaster, natural or manmade, strikes.