The FCC's June 2006 release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the Hurricane Katrina Review Panel's recommendations is interesting from many angles. In many respects, it represents a recognition of several instances where one could say, “I told you so.”

First, I'm intrigued by the proposal to accredit telecom repair workers. Given the number of stories I've heard from clients discussing their inability to access facilities, I believe this is a significant development. It is important that manufacturers and dealers (which represent the main component of facility repair) actively participate in creating this system. Most important, it needs to be nationwide in scope because in situations like Katrina, repair crews literally come from all across the country.

Second, the discussion about “expeditious development” of 700 MHz regional plans in order to foster interoperability is perhaps a bit naive. While a number of regions are well on their way in the planning process (with regional plans approved in several cases), deployment over a vast geographic area in 700 MHz is a long way off. However, the discussion about using 700 MHz as a sort of interoperability backbone certainly gives ammunition to Cyren Call Communications and its plan (MRT, June, page 52).

Third, there is a discussion about creating 911 redundancy, both technically and operationally. It is recommended the FCC work with other federal agencies to enhance funding to support this process. This is important because the various 911 proposals (diverse and redundant circuits, backup power, etc.) will not be cheap to create. Hopefully, this will include support for keeping certain municipalities from robbing 911 funds for unrelated projects.

Fourth, the report recognizes the importance of training. There is a discussion of some users unable to utilize satellite communications that had been provided for them because they had not been trained on the differences in using this equipment.

I believe that training is perhaps the area of most importance in making the next crisis situation more manageable. The creation of training materials and procedures makes people think through scenarios and helps focus their attention on “what if” situations. Thus, training ultimately can assist in spotting weaknesses in the system.

With any luck, the Katrina Report can be used by communications managers nationwide to awaken politicos to the importance of all aspects of the communications infrastructure. Too often, I have participated in meetings where communications managers must go through the frustrating process of justifying their budgetary or personnel requests to their superiors.

How many times have we heard a tale about dead spots in a system's coverage? The politician wails about how heads will roll. The public cries about wasted taxpayer money. Ultimately, we find out the municipality is at fault because its officials didn't listen to the telecommunications managers and system designers in the first place, when they were told what was needed to provide complete coverage. The politicos scaled back the system design to save a few bucks, so they will still be able to claim how they successfully got for their districts this new, state-of-the-art system. Will Katrina change that? I hope so, but I'm not taking bets on it.

Finally, I find interesting what the report is missing. Yes, there is a discussion of “assisting organizations whose primary business is not communications,” but then the list is “hospitals, nursing homes, day-care facilities, and so forth.” There is little discussion of utility workers, and no discussion of other industries that must have telecom functions to support telecom workers and first responders. I hope the industry makes an effort to ensure these critical parts of an operating city are considered in whatever plans and procedures are ultimately adopted.


Alan Tilles is counsel to numerous entities in the private radio and Internet industries. He is a partner in the law firm of Shulman Rogers Gandal Pordy & Ecker and can be reached at atilles@srgpe.com.