Emergency managers know that having a foolproof disaster communications plan is nothing more than a fantasy. That's because even the most redundant backup strategies can leave responders unable to communicate. Consequently agencies remain focused on providing diversified options for communications.

Why? If a disaster has cut the phone lines, it might not have disabled the radio towers, which would enable responders to rely on land mobile radios (LMR). But what if a disaster paralyzed both telephones and LMRs? Responders who come prepared with other means of communication stand a better chance at continuing their operations.

This is where satellite enters the equation. It's becoming "technological catnip" for some agencies that are seeking that diversity during emergencies. If a hurricane or terrorist attack disabled phone lines and destroyed local radio towers, perhaps responders could still point a dish toward a satellite that's safely orbiting in space.

Recent disasters, especially Hurricane Katrina, have magnified the need for diversified communications. The private sector has stepped up and made products that meet this need, including affordable tools for satellite communication. Federal, state and local responder agencies have deployed several of these devices and applications, and are using them as a partial solution for interoperable communications.

Photo: Federal Emergency Management Agency Mobile Emergency Response Support vehicle/Photo Courtesy of Mark Wolfe/FEMA

The SMART Route

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Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.