News Articles

In Katrina's Wake, Need for a New GUARD

9/30/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Author Information
Baker is chief executive of Thirteen/WNET and WLIW New York.

The chaos and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina have put the urgent need for reliable first-response communications back into the headlines.

After 9/11, it became clear that inadequate communications systems hampered rescue efforts and may have contributed to loss of life. Four years later, little has changed.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “ten days after Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, many of the police and fire department communications systems in the region are still limping along, hampering rescue efforts.” The bipartisan chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, blame communications problems in New Orleans on the failure of Congress to give first-responders a piece of the broadcasting band.

But as Congress wrangles over spectrum rights, a unique private-public project has been making notable strides in harnessing bandwidth already available nationwide.

The GUARD (Geospatially Aware Urban Approaches for Responding to Disasters) program is developing the Emergency Broadcasting System spectrum for distributing emergency alerts and command and control information to the public, first- responders and homeland-security personnel. GUARD makes use of the robust 2.5 GHz band licensed to public broadcasters coast-to-coast. In conjunction with federal, state and local government, Thirteen/WNET and Rosettex Technology & Ventures Group have adapted this spectrum to the needs of a post-9/11 world.

Using easily available handheld devices, firefighters, police and EMS personnel can transmit and receive audio, video and data including floor plans, maps, aerial images and other crucial information.

GUARD is designed for a vast range of situations—from fires to natural disasters to terrorist attacks—but the massive devastation caused by Katrina underscores one of the system's intrinsic advantages. Because it relies on small transmitters placed throughout a town or city, its network stands a better chance of enduring the rigors of a storm like Katrina than a single-location, high-power transmitter. It's small enough to be transportable, and capable of providing two-way broadband services.

GUARD has had promising tests in New York and is now inspiring similar initiatives in other markets. We hope GUARD propels an intense dialogue between spectrum license holders and public-safety planners. The next disaster could be right around the corner.

Author Information
Baker is chief executive of Thirteen/WNET and WLIW New York.


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