Katrina smashes Coast Guard IT

As the U.S. Coast Guard handles search and rescue efforts on the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, it also copes with the loss of much of its IT based in the region.

New Orleans is a major hub of the Coast Guard Data Network, said Jolie Shifflet, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in an e-mail message.

The storm has knocked out the Coast Guard’s computer networks along the Gulf Coast and as far away as Houston and New Mexico, Shifflet said. Personnel in those areas don’t have access to e-mail, Internet and classified data networks, she said.

The Coast Guard is trying to reroute the networks but don’t know when they will start working again, Shifflet said. In the meantime, it has deployed a number of emergency satellite-based routers with limited bandwidth so some personnel can access the intranet and messages, she said.

In addition to losing the New Orleans center, the Coast Guard must deal with the loss of its VHF radio towers that it uses to communicate with its boats and cutters, Shifflet said.

The towers are down along the coast and as far north as Greenville, Ala., more than 125 miles northeast of Mobile, Ala., Shifflet said. As a temporary measure, the Coast Guard is bouncing signals off its aircraft as they fly by, she said.

The Coast Guard is trying to restore communications capabilities in affected areas, Shifflet said. It is using several mobile communication trailers to link its and other agencies’ personnel, she said. It put some of the trucks in place before Katrina hit and flew or drove others in once the storm passed, she said.

As the Coast Guard grapples with its own weakened and inoperable technology, it proceeds with rescue work that is mostly low-tech, Shifflet said. Survivors use white T-shirts during the day and flashlights at night to help aircraft spot them, she said.

Technology plays a part only when the Coast Guard is given specific addresses to evacuate, Shifflet said. Aircraft use Global Positioning System devices to direct rescue teams, she said.

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