Facing the Next Katrina with Satellite

Nearly five and a half years after September 11 and eighteen months since Katrina, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and many of the country’s public safety agencies and organizations have yet to solve the problem of interoperatable communications. While this might seem pretty nerdy, its the lack of communication system cross compatibility that prevented firefighters from hearing police calls to escape the WTC when its exterior began crumbling and ultimately limited the execution of a full-scale evacuation of the Gulf Region in August 2005.

Fortunately, the U.S. Congress is finally starting to make some headway, albeit after Former DHS head Tom Ridge slammed the government for failing to deal with the problem. In addition to pushing legislation that would modernize the 911 system throughout the country (particularly in rural areas), the Senate recently approved Interoperable Emergency Communications Act (S.385), which according to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)’s website,

"provides the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with more guidance as it awards $1 billion in interoperable emergency communications grants to police, firemen, and emergency medical personnel… This bill would allow up to $100 million of the expedited $1 billion to be used to establish technology reserves that would assist emergency response agencies in pre-positioning communications equipment in state or regional facilities. These reserves can be activated quickly in the event of a major emergency or natural disaster"

While this has led to Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien to suggest (and for Fmr. Sec. Ridge to support) the creation of a national broadband public safety network using "a slice of spectrum in the 700 MHz band that is scheduled for auction in 2008," there is another more immediate and potentially less costly option… satellite. As Satellite Industry Association (SIA) Executive Director David Cavossa recently pointed out in a press release,

"Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters have shown, satellite communications are uniquely able to provide resilient, redundant, and ubiquitous communications when all other terrestrial-based communications fail."

While its probably not the only solution, it seems that Katrina probably taught us that satellite technology should be included in any robust, interoperatable emergency communication systems solution. Working together with standard radio-based wireless technologies, options built on technology similar to SES-Americom’s REDiSat Network might be just the ticket.