With hurricane season starting this week, emergency personnel in the state of Florida spent last weekend preparing for the possibility that disaster-recovery efforts will be needed, including in the area of communications.

Organized by Ben Holycross, radio systems manager for Polk County, Fla., the four-day exercise was conducted near Arbuckle Lake in Polk County. Participants include other state and local agencies, as well as vendors Motorola, M/A-COM and Sprint Nextel.

"While the state of Florida emergency management directors, planners and ops people were dealing with the statewide hurricane exercise, we were down there testing out and verifying that the disaster-communications equipment works," Holycross said. "If it sits there [unused], after a period of time, you've got to do maintenance on it. You've got to check it and make sure it's running."

Holycross said participants "lived on site for four days" in an effort to replicate a possible disaster situation. Personnel used water from a portable 500-gallon and supplied power with 60-kw generators.

"The only things we were missing were about 1,000 first responders screaming, ‘I need a battery/My radio's broke/How do I get this to operate?' and that smell that permeates a real disaster from rotting, decaying matter," Holycross said.

During the exercise, participants shared considerable information, Holycross said. For instance, the state forestry division "did not realize that we had the ability to put VHF repeaters on the air for them in the event of major wildlands fires" prior to the exercise, Holycross said.

This is the second year Polk County has hosted such an event, but this was the first time that vendors participated, Holycross said.

"We had Motorola, M/A-COM and Sprint Nextel all sitting at a table with us, and everybody was pleasantly cooperative," he said.

Sprint Nextel brought some one of its SATCOLT (satellite-based cellular on light truck) communications vehicles to the exercise that provides both telephones and push-to-talk for the Nextel side of the house.

"They got a chance to see our capabilities, and we got a chance to look at theirs and figure out what resources we had that we could share in a disaster situation," Holycross said.