Sat phone infrastructure. The AA battery lesson. Northcom helps Katrina evacuees tune in. Send in the oral historians. Love in the ruins.

Sat phone infrastructure

We've slain entire forests during the past decade writing and reporting on the need to protect critical infrastructure communications systems against a terrorist attack, only to see much of them destroyed by nature throughout most of the Gulf Coast.

Tens of thousands of satellite phones from Iridium and Globalstar emerged as the thin communications lifeline for the first Defense Department units dispatched to the Gulf Coast. Satellite phones also supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local public safety agencies. Defense coordinating officers from the First U.S. Army were among the first DOD teams on the scene.

Col. James Hickey, the First Army's chief of staff, said his command had learned from previous hurricanes that satellite phones were essential tools, a lesson other agencies quickly learned as demand for the phones skyrocketed.

Liz deCastro, an Iridium spokeswoman, said Celestica, the company's contract manufacturer, ran its factory around the clock to produce handsets in the first week after the hurricane. The manufacturer also took orders from cell phone carriers that probably furnished satellite phones to repair crews, she added.

John Dark, senior marketing manager at Globalstar, said the company received orders for more than 10,000 satellite phones in the first week after the hurricane hit because they were the only reliable alternative to destroyed cellular and landline phone networks.

The AA battery lesson

The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) has supplied handheld two-way radios in bulk to federal, state and local hurricane disaster response teams. Those radios keep going like the Energizer Bunny because they use the same power source as the bunny — disposable AA batteries, which don't require commercial power for recharging.

Steve Jenkins, NIFC's communications division chief, said the multiagency fire center learned long ago that reliable communications means little reliance on commercial power. Any post-Katrina lessons learned should incorporate this affordable and nearly indestructible solution from Jenkins and his crew.

Northcom helps Katrina evacuees tune in

Last week, Northern Command, which is coordinating DOD's post-Katrina operations, bought 10,000 battery-powered AM/FM radios for distribution to news-starved hurricane evacuees. "Not knowing what's going on is the loneliest feeling in the world," said Air Force Col. Lewis Thrasher, chief of Northcom's Contracting Division. "People are desperate for information. This shipment of radios is just one small way [Northcom Commander] Adm. Timothy Keating feels we can help."

Northcom bought the radios, batteries included, in bulk for $60,000 from Wal-Mart Gulf Coast distribution centers. The $10 billion Katrina disaster response supplemental funding bill will pay for the radios.

Send in the oral historians

Paul Tobin, one of our favorite retired admirals and the newly minted director of naval history, told us he plans to record the Navy's role in Katrina disaster relief.

The service generates far less paper documentation today than it did in the past — say during World War II or even the Vietnam War. Navy e-mail is ephemeral and hard to track down, so Tobin plans to dispatch a team of reserve historians from the Washington Navy Yard to the Gulf Coast to collect oral histories of an unprecedented domestic operation for the Navy.

Tobin, recently retired from AFCEA International, said he plans to work at his new gig for two or three years, then retire again. But he postponed his AFCEA retirement several times, so maybe he'll sail through the end of this decade at the Navy Yard before heading to his retirement condo in Florida.

Love in the ruins

Tech. Sgt. Daniel McMullen of the 335th Training Squadron and his new wife, Laverne, got married recently in a shelter at hurricane-battered Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

The groom wore BDUs with a bow tie fashioned from yellow safety tape. The bride wore a matching yellow dress. Groomsmen wore reflective safety belts, and the bridesmaids wore reflective safety vests.

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