08 Sep Madison company urges disaster warning upgrades
Madison, Wis. – An improved warning system could have lessened the negative impacts of Hurricane Katrina, say representatives of a Madison company involved in emergency communications.
“There was a three- to four-hour delay after the levees were breached, where people could have been alerted to the coming danger and resources mobilized simultaneously,” said Kendall Post, chief technology officer of Madison-based Alert Systems Inc. “It’s nearly impossible to evacuate people and mobilize resources when you cannot reach people reliably. With a modern system and a national master plan, we could have significantly reduced the consequences.”
Once people were warned of the levee situation, it was, in many cases, too late to easily leave those areas, added Richard Freeman of Alert Systems.
Noting comments that hurricane victims were not aware of the levee situation, Post called access to information “the core of crisis management. “In fact,” he said, “effective public warning is the linchpin of an effective emergency management system.”
The company has studied emergency communications systems throughout the country, and interviewed representatives of emergency operations centers in five states to identify weaknesses in existing systems. Post said a “willingness to implement” an emergency communications roadmap is now needed.
“What happened in New Orleans? Using every notification means available, it took three to four hours to notify a reduced and sensitized population of the levee breach,” he said. “But by then, the rising waters had made evacuation impossible for many, especially the most economically and physically disadvantaged. What could have helped is an effective public warning system capable of delivering critical information within seconds simultaneously, in real time, throughout the affected areas of the city.”
Post said current systems often rely on “Cold War” technology that does not integrate various emergency management agencies. “Public alerting is left to sirens, local radio and television and auto-dial telephone systems,” he said.
“The technology exists to warn 85 percent of an affected population in 90 seconds, Post added. “We could have simultaneously warned people in the middle of the night throughout the affected areas of New Orleans. This approach would have warned about the dike failures and the resulting flooding, and provided alternative emergency evacuation routing. We could have created an informational thread that warned people of developments after television, radio, telephone, and electricity went out. Responder mobilization would have been immediate and good intelligence would have been available to all levels of government. Those in Washington and throughout the affected states would have the same information at the same time. Effective communications may have alleviated substantial amounts of the misery we are now seeing and will continue to see throughout the Gulf Coast region.”