911 and other critical communications are essentially wiped out in much of the devastated Gulf Coast region, according to Federal Computer Week.
“What we’re finding in the rural coastal communities is that there is no ability to pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1,” [Barry Luke, division fire chief with Orange County (Fla.) Fire Rescue] said Thursday. “There is no ability for the public to call for help. There is no local communication system that is organizing police and fire and the mutual aid units rolling in are [only] able to talk among themselves.
His crews are using 800 MHz portable radios “on direct,” meaning they can talk from unit to unit without repeaters to a maximum distance of 1 to 1.5 miles.
Additionally, they have three satellite phones. Essentially he said the crews are conducting their operations blindly, unaware of other federal and state search and rescue teams in their vicinity, the location of critical facilities, such as hospitals, and even whether they are operating.
The communication failure is just one of many areas in which aid and support is slow to come to the Gulf Coast and for which the Bush administration and DHS are taking extreme heat today.
Florida has also deployed several sophisticated mobile communications trailers to the affected areas. Temporary antenna towers can be erected and personnel operating on different radio channels whether 800 MHz, VHF or UHF, can be cross-patched through ACU-1000 devices to communicate with one another.
Luke said the trailers contain hundreds of VHF portable radios that operate on AA batteries. He said they take with them thousands of dollars of those batteries. However, he said his crews are not using any of the communications trailers because there are not enough.
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