An unofficial poll of state CIOs conducted at this month's NASCIO showed that 69% either disagreed or strongly disagreed that states are better prepared to face a disaster than they were before Katrina. 79% disagree or strongly disagree with the same question about the Federal government.
Utah was held up as an example of a state that's pioneered interoperable communications for first responders--a critical need that was highlighted during the Katrina crisis. In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, we installed an 800Mhz radio system that serviced much of the Wasatch Front (where 80% of the State's population lives) and let police, fire, and other first responders all share a common system for voice.
This isn't easy to do. There's no group of more independent minded people that sheriffs, police chiefs, and fire chiefs. They are quick to go their own way. The state, with financial help from the feds, used a combination of carrots and sticks to get people to play nice together. It was critical that UCAN, the group was formed to manage the network, not be seen as controlled by the state. This was tricky sometimes because we were supplying most of the money.
Even after the Olympics, the momentum of the effort carried further and there have been significant changes to emergency communications to enhance interoperability, add data services, and expand coverage to more rural counties. Utah is trying to expand interoperability to neighboring states, which has it's own problems and multiplies the political headaches.
When I think of how much work interoperable communications is and that's it's only a small part of the overall disaster preparedness need, it's daunting. There is much that IT can offer in this area, but the folks who drive emergency preparedness are usually illiterate when it comes to IT. We all know how important it is that business leaders understand and participate in IT governance. Governor's could get ahead in their disaster preparedness plans by ensuring they appoint emergency management directors who get IT and are ready to use it to solve their problems.