With Hurricane Rita promising a reprise of the communications collapse during Hurricane Katrina earlier this month, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Kevin Martin told lawmakers Thursday the Internet must become a vital part of the nation’s emergency response system.
According to the FCC, Katrina knocked down more than 3 million customer telephone lines in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. More than 20 million telephone calls did not go through the day after Katrina. Local wireless networks fared no better with more than 1,000 cell sites out of service.
Even if calls had been able to get through, first responders were hamstrung by the fact that thirty-eight 911 call centers went down.
”We should take full advantage of IP-based technologies to enhance the resiliency of a traditional communications network,” Martin told a Senate panel. ”IP technology provides the dynamic capability to change and reroute telecommunications traffic within the traditional network.”
Martin added that when traditional systems fail, IP-based technologies will enable service providers to more quickly restore service and provide the flexibility to initiate service at new locations.
”If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it is that we cannot rely solely on terrestrial communications,” Martin said. ”We should use new technologies so that first responders can take advantage of whatever terrestrial network is available.”
Martin said smart radios would allow first responders to find any available towers or infrastructure on multiple frequencies. He added that Wi-Fi, spread spectrum and other frequency-hopping techniques would allow emergency workers to use limited spectrum quickly and efficiently.
Most of all, Martin urged, any emergency alert system should ”incorporate the Internet, which was designed by the military for its robust network redundancy functionalities.”