Keeping the Lines of Communication Open

Jul 14, 2015

Hurricane Katrina, as pictured in the Gulf of Mexico at 14:45 UTC on August 28, 2005.
Credit NOAA

Don’t you love your smart phone, giving you information and instantaneous communication in the palm of your hand? But what if cell service, power and internet weren’t there? Remember Katrina?

“Then you have your response, which, if you remember, uh, didn’t go real well,” Kevin Davis, head of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), said, in a masterpiece of understatement. “It was a huge disaster,” he added, quite frankly.

Davis, who spoke to the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, said a big part of the disastrous response was the lack of a cohesive communication network -- what’s known as “interoperability”. He says that’s been solved for Louisiana’s next major disaster.

“We’re able to communicate to that officer in the car, or emergency operations, or our first responders through our L-WIN system.”

L-WIN stands for Louisiana Wireless Information Network.

“So we can talk from Port Fourchon to Monroe to Shreveport, from New Orleans, on our radio system.”

506 agencies are part of the digital system, which has 128 dedicated cell towers positioned all around the state.

“All of them have generator backup so that we can keep that communication going,” Davis says of the towers.

“Now, you may say, ‘Well, Kevin, if a tower goes down?’ But we’ve had towers go down recently. We just mobilize our trailer to that location and bring it all right back up.”

Interoperability trailer
Credit Sue Lincoln

Davis said those little trailers—about 4 ft. by 8 ft.—have been field tested.

“During B-P, we took our trailers to Mobile, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast. Our trailers, and tied in the states so they could talk to us.”

The entire system has been paid for with a combination of federal and state funds, with Louisiana investing approximately $180-million to make sure first responders and disaster response agencies can communicate with each other across city limits and parish lines.

Davis said the next step will tying Louisiana into an even bigger interoperability network.

“They want to be able to do that on a national level, but it’s going to take the federal side probably another 5 years.”