Learning from disaster
From the four hurricanes that struck our home state of Florida in 2004 (three in our backyard) through the aftermath of last year’s Hurricane Katrina, there is a great deal to be learned from the terrible challenges created by these natural disasters.
For starters, there were many problems and failures that must be addressed and resolved as we move forward. The devastating power of these storms made certain vulnerabilities and flaws all the more obvious. Still, there is intelligence to be gained from what happened under the worst possible circumstances. As usual, we need to take a closer look.
For our industry, one positive and hopeful — yet sometimes overlooked — conclusion stood out above the rest, and the reality is that we don’t say it and repeat it and emphasize it often enough.
Land mobile radio (LMR) is, and should be, at the core of public-safety and disaster-response communications. Not cell phones or landline telephones or satellite phones or voice over IP or Wi-Fi, or whatever.
Can those other communications tools be helpful in an emergency? Absolutely. When in danger or trouble, people need to be able to call for help.
But in severe disaster conditions, the switched public communications and commercial power infrastructures are most often the first to go down. In many situations, once they are back up and operating, they soon are overloaded with traffic.
With LMR, users control their own system, their own operations — their own destiny. LMR equipment runs on portable batteries, vehicle batteries and backup generators. Mobile tactical repeaters with elevated antennas on vehicles can be moved when and where needed. Ready-to-go, mobile push-to-talk communications is what our industry is all about from what we have learned over many years.
Do we need more backup radios, batteries and equipment to prepare in advance for catastrophic emergencies? Yes. Power can be a critical factor, and the new portable batteries with longer life between charges or changes are a welcome addition to our equipment.
Do we need to help drive the push for radio interoperability between agencies? Yes, we do. Do we need to press for more radio spectrum to enable more users and for better connectivity between communications media? Yes. Do we need to ensure stronger construction and protection of radio infrastructure, for more tough and rugged, durable, weatherproof, rock-solid radios? Yes. There is work to be done.
But in the process of fixing the problems and making new improvements, developing better means of integration and intercommunications and improving our emergency- and disaster-response preparedness, let us not forget the fundamentals of what we have learned and proved through many, many years of experience on the front lines.
First and foremost, LMR has been, is now and will be for many years to come the primary tool for coordinating emergency- and disaster-response communications by public-safety, military and government agencies. That’s as it should be.
Public safety depends on radios. That is the business focus we share in the LMR industry, and we are proud to be of service in saving lives and protecting our citizens.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, loud and clear. Make no mistake: emergency response begins with radio communications. That’s why we’re here, and the necessities that drive our business are not going away anytime soon.
David P. Storey is president and CEO of RELM Wireless Corp., a manufacturer and marketer of mobile radio equipment for public-safety and government agencies, as well as business-band radios serving a wide range of commercial applications, for nearly six decades.