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Communication Challenges in Response to Disasters
Communication and response to disaster
The United States has been hit by several disasters ranging from natural ones to man made. Some of them have included flooding, winds, and terrorism among others. In response to these disasters, the law enforcement agencies have been met with several challenges including communication problems due to failure of early preparedness or poor equipment.
The most known natural one was Hurricane Katrina which strikes the United States. According to the risk management experts, the storm caused $40-60 billion in terms of insured losses, and the actual losses exceeded $150 billion. Regarding the human costs, the effects of Katrina was felt for more than decades, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration., 2005). Some of the far reaching consequences of this killer storm were permanent population shifts as well as large scale changes in terms of land use practices.
There were several communication challenges that law enforcement agencies experienced when responding to this deadly disaster. The law officials acknowledged that the Gulf Coast law enforcement agencies were not able to communicate using radio, cell phone, or even landline telephone. Many existed agencies along the coast encountered lost radio fixed transmission equipment as a result of the flood or wind. Some of the officers in several agencies were limited to the use of car-to-car communications only. Even after the start of restoring communication systems, agencies could only communicate to their own personnel but were unable to communicate to other agencies that were in the area, or to the myriad of officers that came from other states to offer assistance, simply due to incompatible radio systems.
As the storm ended, officers came out of their shelters to start their work; however most of them were not able to locate their fellow officers. Their communication equipments such as repeaters, central transmission systems, as well as cell phones could not operate. Therefore, in terms of response they were rendered uncoordinated and ineffective in a strategic sense. The problem remained for more than a month after the end of the storm as public safety communications in most areas remained largely disrupted.
The experience of Katrina confirms the need for redundant communications systems as well as interoperability after and during a disaster. Every time United States receives a disaster, failure in communication emerges as the main problem for public safety agencies. There are some initiatives that have been made that can make us find solution to this problem of communications, (Risk Management Solutions, 2005). For example, in 1998, prior to the event of September 11, 2001, there was initiative by the National Institute of Justice where they came up with AGILE (Advance Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement). This program was designed majorly with intention of coordinating inoperability projects in the Department of Justice and among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Though by 2001, there were some progress that have been made toward inoperability, communication failures became the key finding by the 9/11 Commission regarding terrorist attacks reports in Washington, D.C. In its recommendations report, the 9/11 Commission had as their first recommendation "Provide adequate radio spectrum for first responders." This is an important tool for communication purposes.
Moreover, unifying interoperability standard for first responders could be a solution to the challenges of communication, (Office of Domestic Preparedness, 2002). Nevertheless, for those law enforcement agencies wishing to prepare fro disaster within their communities should not hesitate to move toward communications redundancy and interoperability. It is always of great importance when public safety agencies communicate efficiently with each other as well as with their personnel during disasters.
During Katrina, for some of the Gulf Coast law enforcement agencies that had mobile communications vans got the chance of pressing such vehicles into use, (Smith, B. And Tolman, T., 2000). Such vehicles could provide limited communication as transmitters, antennas, and repeaters were undergoing repair. Severally, the only central communications capability within agency was a mobile communication van which was on operation for some weeks. Various law enforcement agencies across the country were engaged in trying all the means of sending their mobile command posts to the affected area to offer communications support as well as to better communications with their own officers that worked…[continue]
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