WWNO disc jockey and ham radio enthusiast Bob Dunn saw the best and worst of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. In the time immediately preceding and during the storm he was running the city’s emergency ham radio out of City Hall, the local government’s command center. While there he became disgusted with how things were handled. From government officials to the head of hospitals for the city, there was “a clear lack of preparation and a lot of pig-headed ignorance.”
After the storm passed and the city started flooding the command center was relocated to the Hyatt, where Mayor Nagin had been the entire time. Dunn was so frustrated with the incompetence of the government that he left New Orleans with his personal ham radio and conducted rescue efforts from Baton Rouge.
Dunn feels strongly about the relationship that amateur radio operators have with the community they operate within. He says that they have “permission to use airwaves for free because [they] provide emergency services” in times of need. Hams in New Orleans have taken this calling even more seriously since the storm. They have banned together and organized into fourteen teams of three who are ready to respond at all times. The Coast Guard has also created the 45th flotilla made up entirely of ham radio operators (the first of its kind in the country).
As for WWNO, the University of New Orleans radio station that is also an affiliate of NPR, it was evacuated along with the rest of campus. They did start webcasting almost immediately after the storm from Baton Rouge. For those with Internet access it was a valuable resource for information during the devastating time.