Col. Debra Rose oversees domestic operations communications for the South Carolina National Guard. She also coordinates military communications for the state’s National Guard during manmade and natural disasters that hit the state, most commonly hurricanes. She shares with Urgent Communications her views on what the best practices are for successful military communications in a disaster zone.

Develop a robust wireless network. During a hurricane, the South Carolina National Guard uses its armories in as staging areas for both public-utility and public-safety agencies. Being prepositioned lets agencies quickly repair infrastructure and respond to emergencies inside the disaster zone once the hurricane has passed. All the staging areas and agencies within must report back to headquarters to coordinate recovery actions. Because multiple agencies converge on each armory, Rose said the guard must support wireless communications and those users who are limited to certain networks, such as the military networks or public-access networks for police agencies. “During emergency situations we need to make sure multiple agencies — and by that I mean electric, gas, police, the Red Cross, all those agencies — can talk to each other,” Rose said.

Spectrum management is crucial. One of the toughest tasks for emergency communications is spectrum management. The military manages multiple communications systems, from hand-held radios down to satellite backhaul. Rose said creating a robust network and testing it with cooperating agencies improves emergency response tremendously. “The whole thing is for the police to be able to talk to the National Guard, to the hospitals and all of those different agencies,” she said. “That will always be difficult, but we are getting a lot better at it.”

Always preplan incidents with surrounding agencies. The National Guard uses the National Incident Management System and several state-mandated common operation picture programs. Rose said using such systems crucial to plan for a disaster with different agencies, because it helps coordinate a response. She suggested that cooperating agencies should work together on following NIMS and also during equipment purchasing to ensure that equipment, communications are interoperable.“Coordinate those efforts so it’s seamless when an event occurs,” Rose said.

Equipment needs to hold up. Ruggedness is another crucial element because troops and equipment are sent to an austere environment. Two-way radios and other communication equipment must be able to work in such environment so the incident can be managed and personnel can be kept safe, Rose said. “It is bad conditions after hurricane — we remember from our response to local hurricanes and during Hurricane Katrina — so the equipment has to stand up,” Rose said.