We Can't Hear YouFEMA, along with three other major operational agencies under the Department of Homeland Security, rely on shortwave radios for two-way communications in the field. In other words, they use HF radios -- HF standing for "High Frequency," for many of their tactical communications needs. The military and many relief organizations worldwide also use HF radios extensively.
You'd think that these various agencies and relief organizations could easily communicate with each other, since they are all using HF radios. But you'd be wrong.
Not all HF radios are the same, of course. Some are multiband, some are monoband. Some are encrypted communications, some have restricted frequencies. As David Kirkpatick writes in his Fortune magazine article about Katrina, "When rescue workers' did have working equipment, like walkie-talkies, they often couldn't connect with others on different communication systems."
Kirkpatirck is correct. The American Red Cross could not use their HF radios to reach FEMA, the U.S. military command could not use their radios to reach the Red Cross or FEMA, the National Guard couldn't even reach the U.S. Army command post, and never mind the Civil Air Patrol -- they keep their frequencies so secret even the NSA doesn't know. The local New Orleans police HF radios could not reach anybody but other New Orleans police, the Salvation Army couldn't reach FEMA or the American Red Cross, the U.S. Coast Guard couldn't reach New Orleans police, and faith-based relief organizations were counting on cell phones with inoperable cell towers and no electricity to the city. Cave-dwellers could have done better.
Classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.
This communications disaster was due to FEMA, and others, insisting on closed proprietary standards for their communications systems. Every agency has its own logistical and tactical needs, and thus its own communication equipment and frequency allocation. To make communication matters worse, FEMA required victims of Hurricane Katrina to only use Microsoft IE in order to sign up for relief services. That was a shameful decision. But it gives us a peek into the FEMA, closed standards thinking.
A partial solution is open communication standards, a common command and control frequency for all agencies, and the requirement that every federal, state, city, and county agency have on staff a minimum of one Amateur Radio Operator -- "hams" know all about open standards and "hams" can communicate with anyone, anywhere in a disaster. They've proven it time and time again and they proved it by the thousands in the Gulf Coast. As an amateur radio operator, this author listened into the relief agency chaos babbling out of the Gulf Coast disaster and it sounded like something from the Tower of Babel.
John Hart is an amateur radio operator, the author of "How to Protect Your Family Against the Coming Pandemic," and worldwide distributor of NanoMasks and NanoFilters, the only reliable defense against bird flu and other deadly pathogens. Learn how NanoFilters kill bird flu at http://www.buynanomask.com