New Orleans wants regional, redundant radio system

New Orleans officials are hoping to have their radio communications network linked regionally and to a statewide system by June 1, the start of the 2006 hurricane season.

Mark Reis, the city’s deputy director of emergency medical services, said city government officials and first responders have been working toward connecting their 800 MHz radio system within Orleans Parish and the surrounding parishes – Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines – and with the state police system to provide redundancy.

During Hurricane Katrina last summer, New Orleans lost its radio communications system after debris damaged the radiator of a main generator and flooding caused power loss at other tower sites. The city’s first responders had limited channels available to them and problems communicating with emergency officials responding from other jurisdictions because they had incompatible equipment.

Reis said the city had interoperable communications with its neighbors before Katrina hit, but they never envisioned that surrounding parishes would also lose operability. He said if they were tied into the state radio system 70 miles inland, they could have had interoperable communications.

The lessons from Katrina were not learned, but “shoved down our throats,” he said.

Reis was a panelist during a session at the Safecom Program’s inaugural industry summit, which was held today in Washington, D.C.

Safecom is a presidential management initiative within the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Interoperability and Compatibility designed to help state and local officials research, develop, test and evaluate interoperable communications systems. It is also educating state and local jurisdictions about issues regarding equipment, standards, spectrum and funding. Although it does not administer federal funds, Safecom provides guidelines incorporated by other federally funded entities.

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