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EMF Studies

01 September 2016

Unreliable Wireless Network Left First Responders High And Dry During Louisiana Floods

Last week Lousiana was overwhelmed with flood water
causing at least 13 deaths and thousands of homes
damaged by the flood waters.
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Unreliable Wireless Network Left First Responders High And Dry During Louisiana Floods
Guest post written by Ronnie Johnson, Forbes, 23 August 2016

Mr. Johnson is Col. (ret.) in Louisiana's Army National Guard. He was Director of Information Management during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Eleven years ago, I served as head of communications and later Brigade Commander of the Louisiana National Guard during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I saw firsthand what nature could do. Amid floods of Biblical proportions, cars, houses and all sorts of property were swept away by the rising waters. People either fled for their lives or clung to makeshift rafts made of anything that could float.

And our troops, some of the best-equipped in the world, could not communicate with each other in the field. All of the commercial wireless networks went down amid the devastation, and were no more available for our first responders than they were for citizens trying to make and receive calls to loved ones.

Today, Louisiana is once again under water. And while some commercial wireless networks have fared better than others, the communications failures during this month’s flooding are a reminder, yet again, of why our first responders need a resilient, reliable and purpose-built wireless network.

The First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, was created in 2012 to fulfill the final outstanding recommendation of the 9/11 Commission—a nationwide, interoperable communications system for emergency services. That network is not yet built, but in the coming weeks the federal government will make a decision about how to deploy that network. And recently, FirstNet has come under fire in the media. The project has been called “obsolete,” unnecessary, a boondoggle. But done right, FirstNet will be none of those things. And the flooding we’re experiencing now shows yet again why our emergency services can’t afford to rely on commercial wireless carriers when disaster strikes.

I still remember how difficult our task was without simple cellphone service in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As first responders and National Guard forces from Louisiana and other states positioned and repositioned in response to initially Hurricane Katrina, and shortly thereafter Hurricane Rita, communications was a serious challenge. Forced to rely on short-range organic communications systems severely hampered rescue operations.


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