Disasters proving mettle of IP communications

IP-based comms assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

An IP-based communications system built into a rescue vehicle supplied by Anne Arundel County in Maryland is credited with helping to improve communications in New Orleans during the dark days after Hurricane Katrina.

The county designed the high-tech package for the vehicle last year. The work was completed just three weeks before the hurricane hit Louisiana, says Dave Chapman, president of Chapman Consultants, which served as the integrator for the IP technology used in the vehicle.

Chapman discussed the vehicle’s Katrina performance during a roundtable discussion on disaster preparedness at VoiceCon Spring 2006 in Orlando last week.

The IP technology in the vehicle, supplied by Arinc, helped make 17 different radio and communications systems interoperate after the storm. The vehicle was sent to Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, to provide communications support for walk-in medical clinics, according to Chapman.

Anne Arundel County officials designed the vehicle to be a communications hub in the event that the county’s emergency operations centre became unavailable. The communications system was designed to be interoperable with those of any agency in Maryland, as well as with those of jurisdictions bordering the state, Chapman says.

“It operated flawlessly for more than three weeks in Louisiana, all on generator power,” he says.

Chapman says the Anne Arundel success story is just one example of how IP technology can provide the “common language” needed to provide communications interoperability across many thousands of jurisdictions for first responders.

Greg Meffert, chief technology officer and CIO for New Orleans, says that although half the city remains without working land-lines more than six months after Katrina, VoIP-enabled networks have been operating since a few days after the storm.

Meffert says some workers at New Orleans City Hall had started using VoIP phones before the deadly storm hit on August 29. The city has since been expanding the technology’s use, he says.

Jan Rideout, CIO at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which has facilities in the New Orleans area, says that before the storm, the company had a three-year plan to install VoIP and wireless networks. That rollout has since been accelerated to 18 months. “It’s a big part of our recovery, and we believe it’s the way to go,” Rideout says.

Chapman says local governments in the US “could quickly, in a matter of months, convert to IP-based technology for emergency responders. The real question is political and budgetary.”

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Tags Networking & Telecomms IDkatrinaip comms

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