As we walked into the conference room at the Louisiana Emergency Operations Center, our group could not help noticing that the weather map documenting Hurricane Katrina’s trajectory was projected onto the wall. The coincidence was not lost on Lieutenant Lawrence McLeary, a public information officer for the Louisiana State Police. He explained to our group that the map was recently used by emergency responders as a training exercise. Hurricane Katrina brought to light several serious problems with existing emergency procedures.
One such problem was the ineffectiveness of the Emergency Alert System. As McLeary pointed out the EAS, a large black console with several employees monitoring it, he recalled his own personal frustrations with the system. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina forced first responders to react immediately to emergency situations, and the EAS proved to be a roadblock rather than a beneficial warning tool. During the crisis the EAS was manned by National Guardsmen, who were often pulled away from the machine to deal with other pressing issues. Unfortunately, that meant the only way to send out a message meant tracking down somebody authorized to send an alert and having them write it down before anything could be sent out. By the time that all this was accomplished “the information was stale,” explains McLeary. “The EAS doesn’t work in a fluid situation.”
Another issue that Lt. McLeary discussed was the inability of the police to use one specific radio station to distribute emergency information to the public. The competitive nature of the radio business causes many stations to cry foul if the state police try to use a single station in an emergency. “You can’t show favoritism, obviously, in this industry,” said McLeary.
However, there were also some successful communication stories. McLeary partially credits the reestablishment of successful communications among the police force to satellite phones, distributed by Motorola. The satellite phones proved to be essential to communication after Hurricane Katrina decimated vital communications infrastructure in the New Orleans area. Satellite phones allowed the state police to communicate essential information for rescue attempts.