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Communications Infrastructure No Match for Katrina 483

jfourier writes "In this age of cheap commoditized consumer electronics and advanced mobile technology, why can't all the people of a city make contact during an emergency? Cell phone circuits filled up during 9/11 attacks and in the wake of hurricane Katrina very few victims can make contact with their families, despite the fact that they have all those mobile phones. The Red Cross is looking to deploy satellite equipment to restore communications in affected areas." From the article: "Katrina made landfall in Louisiana early this morning with sustained winds of 145 mph, but veered just enough to the east to spare New Orleans a direct blow. Even so, flooding, power outages and heavy damage to structures were reported throughout the region. The Red Cross tomorrow expects to begin deploying a host of systems it will need, including satellite telephones, portable satellite dishes, specially equipped communications trucks, high- and low-band radio systems, and generator-powered wireless computer networks, said Jason Wiltrout, a Red Cross network engineer. "
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Communications Infrastructure No Match for Katrina

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  • Windy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fembots ( 753724 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:35PM (#13439558) Homepage
    Wouldn't satellite signals be affected by rain and wind?
    • Re:Windy (Score:3, Funny)

      Wouldn't satellite signals be affected by rain and wind?

      Yeah, they don't work if they get wet and the wind can really screw with their frequencies.
    • Not once it's passed?

      I think that they are talking about temporary stuff to help replace the damaged infrastructure to provide service until repairs are made.

    • Re:Windy (Score:4, Informative)

      by AlexisMachine ( 16646 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:47PM (#13439689)
      Wind no, rain yes.

      Ku Band singals are in the microwave range of EM frequencies, so are vulnerable to rain fade (which is ironic since many Meteorologists get their data this way).

      C-Band isn't as bad.
      • Re:Windy (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:42PM (#13440135)
        This is why I am very frustrated at the FCC's limitations on UWB broadcast signal strengths. UWB devices are resistant to interference, and can have enormous ranges at very low power outputs. Not to mention enormous bandwidth and the potential for an enormous number of users. We're talking multiple gigabits at insane ranges with very little power. That is a lot more simultaneous voice than HAM radio or cellular service (or even wimax) can provide. Wimax is a joke next to UWB's potential, but with current limitations on UWB, it looks like UWB is limited to wires (UWB over cable TV coax), ultra-short range uses (Wireless USB), and wifi-type ranges (100 to 300 feet).

        300 feet at a thousandth the power of a cellphone. Now imagine if you had the broadcast power of a cellphone in a UWB device.
    • by thesandbender ( 911391 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:52PM (#13439731)
      Wind does not affect satellite signals. It effects the dishes. Rain does attenuate the signal however. Regardless, the storm will have blown over by the time the Red Cross gets the equipment setup. All and all this was not a well thought out post: 1. Capacity : Yes, the cell companies could build out the capacity to support everyone calling at once but you don't want to foot the bill. Every once in a while you need to speed to pass some one, you don't buy a porsche do you? Why? Because most of us justify it, much less afford it. 2. Robustness : Lets see if you house stands up to 20 feet of water and 145 mph winds. I'm certain it won't... why not... because you don't want to pay for it. Cell phones are not a public service, they are a commodity and are priced and scaled accordingly. I'm sure the cell phone companies would be more than happy to accomodate you if you'll sign the 10 year $250/month service contract.
      • 2. Robustness : Lets see if you house stands up to 20 feet of water and 145 mph winds. I'm certain it won't... why not... because you don't want to pay for it.
        Either that, or you think concrete is ugly.
      • Rain affects the small space between the reflector and the LNB. So if rain travels between the dish itself and the "stalk" pointing at the dish, then your signal will degrade since the relatively weak signal is concentrated into a small spot. As long as the rain is diverting the weak signal coming from the satellite. So think of it like shining a flashlight at someone and the put their hand up to interfere, the light still manages to mostly get to the destination. If someone shoots a laser pointer at you
        • if rain travels between the dish itself and the "stalk" pointing at the dish, then your signal will degrade

          The "stalk" is called the feed assembly. Old timers like me still call it the "feed horn". In most satellite receive systems, it contains the actual receive antenna (usually a horn-coupled waveguide) and a preamplifier and frequency converter commonly called a "LNB" (low-noise block converter).

          Heavy rain affects Ku-band satellite signals by attenuating them as they make their way through the area of r
  • Ham Radio (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spetiam ( 671180 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:35PM (#13439567) Journal
    Do I even need to say it?

    Ever since the midwest blackout I've been meaning to get an operator's license... for 2m if nothing else.
    • Re:Ham Radio (Score:4, Informative)

      by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:56PM (#13439765) Homepage Journal
      Well, then do it - the test for No Code Tech is not very hard, and then you can start getting practice operating, and start studying for the Extra when the FCC removes the 5 words per minute Morse requirement (any day now).

      Go to [] - download the question pools (they are about to change - so get the correct ones), go by a shi^H^H^HRadio Shack and get the Tech, General, and Extra study guides, and spend a few minutes a night studying.

      The ARRL should have a list of testing sessions and locations - failing that, let me know where you are and I'll see what I can find out.
    • So do it, then! It is very easy with all the no code requirements now.
    • Re:Ham Radio (Score:5, Interesting)

      by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:02PM (#13439824)
      I just heard a short piece on NPR about this:

      An 85 yr old woman was trapped on a rooftop. She somehow managed to get a cellphone call out to someone in Tulsa, OK. From there, the Red Cross took it, and asked for HAM assistance. From there, the message was relayed by ham ops to Idaho, then to Utah, then to [somewhere else], then down to the Coast Guard in Mobile, AL.

      She was rescued.

      • Grain of salt (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geekoid ( 135745 )
        it may have happened, OTOH, in any great disaster strike, many 'fantastic' tales get circulated that turn out to not be true.
        • Re:Grain of salt (Score:3, Insightful)

          by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 )
          True. But this was a firsthand report, live on the telephone, from the initial ham operator in Tulsa. I'm sure NPR has the transcript. It was today, Aug 30, around 5:30 PM EDT, if you care to look it up.
        • Re:Grain of salt (Score:3, Insightful)

          by stevew ( 4845 )
          You'll find the story up on Is that authentic enough for you?
    • Yea, that's whaat I don't understand. Is there really that much of a lack of amateur radio operators these days? A lot of hams LIVE for doing the RACES and ARES drills that deal with exactly these kinds of disaster scenarios.

      I imagine the problem was that most hams probably fled the area when the general evacuation was called for, now they can't get anywhere near the place to help. The Red Cross should be asking for amateur radio volunteers to help coordinate emergency communications... that's one of t

    • Re:Ham Radio (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonym1ty ( 534715 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:49PM (#13440212) Homepage Journal

      When all else fails...

      ...Amateur Radio!

  • Red Cross Donations (Score:5, Informative)

    by learn fast ( 824724 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:36PM (#13439570)
    • My dad is a pathologist with over 25 years experience running a hospital laboratory. He says the Red Cross is just this side of organized crime. They take blood donations and RENT the blood to hospitals for something like $100/unit for about 3 weeks. Then, instead of freezing it, they either destroy it or sell it for components. This policy, along with their effective monopoly creates severe blood shortages, extorts money from gravely injured people and the continual artificial crises give them propaganda o
  • by geomon ( 78680 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:36PM (#13439571) Homepage Journal
    Beat out messages on drums!

    Of course the system failed. The cities have flooded, there is no power in much of the area, and a good number of towers and other infrastructure has been damaged.

    The winds reached 140+ miles per hour. The uplands received 5+ inches of rain in 24 hours.
    • Flooding (Score:2, Informative)

      by ackthpt ( 218170 ) *
      Of course the system failed. The cities have flooded, there is no power in much of the area, and a good number of towers and other infrastructure has been damaged.

      One of the city levees has been leaking and without power they estimate the homes of hundreds of thousands will be flooded. Without power there's also the lack of pumps running. Much of the city is 6 ft below the level of the Misssissippi River.

      This is pretty much your worst case scenario in the Gulf Coast happening. Nice weather now, but p

      • This is pretty much your worst case scenario in the Gulf Coast happening. Nice weather now, but people won't even be allowed back to some neighborhoods for at least one week. Others are still being evacuated, by boat, as flood waters rise.

        A guy in my office has family in New Orleans. They left for Memphis on Saturday. They have kept contact with people who have gone in to assess the damage to their property. His mother's house is under water - to the roofline.

        My colleage's entire family is taking the month
    • Of course the systems failed because there's no money to be made in building the kind of redundancy into the system that's necessary to keep running. It would be possible to build a hurricane resistent communications network but you'd have to pay a lot of money to do that. When you are competing for subscribers, they aren't going to pay significant more for "works during a hurricane" promotions.

      For these providers it's easier to build a fair weather network and then handle the repair of those networks thr
    • Beat out messages on drums!

      Not necessary. SMS (Text) messaging should work fine even in the most congested networks due to the way it works (something like usenet, I believe).

      Problem comes when you can't get a signal.
  • Ham Radio (Score:5, Informative)

    by BenFranske ( 646563 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:36PM (#13439574) Homepage
    Let me point out that this is one of those times when battery operated amateur radio provides one of the best ways to get messages in and out of an affected area. In fact, this story [] at the ARRL has some information on how hams are helping in the recovery effort.
    • Re:Ham Radio (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:03PM (#13439832) Journal
      Let me point out that this is one of those times when battery operated amateur radio provides one of the best ways to get messages in and out of an affected area. In fact, this story at the ARRL has some information on how hams are helping in the recovery effort.

      It's too bad that so many will be willing to sacrifice HAM so that some miserable little power company can fill the skies with RF noise just so they can get an Internet feed. Hopefully the odd disaster will remind people that there are better ways to get the Internet, and that HAM operators serve in an invaluable service in times of crisis, and that BPL is nothing more than a shameless money grab.

      • Re:Ham Radio (Score:5, Insightful)

        by BenFranske ( 646563 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:07PM (#13439861) Homepage
        Before someone points out that the power is out so the point is moot let me say that the power is out in this area but these RF communications are going out to receiveing stations where the power is NOT out and where interference would be a problem. Hams are generally supportive of new technologies such as BPL and would no doubt enjoy seeing it work out but the providers need to show a way to do it without creating interference on existing communications channels.
    • Re:Ham Radio (Score:3, Interesting)

      by xee ( 128376 )
      Indeed. In the aftermath of hurricane andrew [] my father and I (both hams) went into the areas with heavy devistation to take messages from people with no communication and pass them on to thier friends and relatives across the country. We also sat by the radio at home and made phone calls on behalf of other hams who were in the field taking messages. I'm sure this is happening in LA as well. Why doesn't ham radio get more press in times like this? Because Big Media doesn't want to encourage encroachment
  • Dumbass question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Le Marteau ( 206396 ) * on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:36PM (#13439577) Journal
    In this age of cheap commoditized consumer electronics and advanced mobile technology, why can't all the people of a city make contact during an emergency?

    That is the dumbest question I have ever seen on Slashdot.

    Sure, cell PHONES are cheap, but have you priced the towers and the infrastructure that SUPPORTS the phone? Plus, even though your cell phone has a battery, the batteries at the cellular provider won't last long when the entire frickin' CITY is without power.
    • by Deitheres ( 98368 )
      Exactly... mobile phones are not like walkie talkies... they don't connect directly to one another. While these systems are scalable, there is still a limit to the traffic capacity they can handle.

      It's like asking why your computer can't run a billion processes simultaneously-- the infrastructure just doesn't support it.
    • Plus, even though your cell phone has a battery, the batteries at the cellular provider won't last long when the entire frickin' CITY is without power.

      Add in the fact that cell phones aren't reliable in perfect weather standing next to a tower, and people expect what?
    • Re:Dumbass question (Score:2, Informative)

      by Lost+Found ( 844289 )
      Eh... all true, but the battery part. At least, I'm making an educated guess. Here in Telecom Corridor in Richardson, TX, Nortel's facility has (or at least, at one time, had) battery capacity to run Dallas for a week, and they don't even switch calls... just make switches.

      Of course, that is the PSTN, and I suppose cell providers aren't held to nearly the same standard.
    • by nairnr ( 314138 )
      Here Here! Infrastructure systems are designed for common to peak expected usage. No City or company in there right mind will build roads, or phone systems to handle maximum similtanous usage. Think of it has your morning commute. How come everyone in the city can't just hop on the road and not expect delays? You want to build a 50 lane highway on the off chance everyone has to use it at once?

      The scale of the disaster is immense. When you have a city which is 80% under water up to 20' of water, I would thi
    • by Mike1024 ( 184871 )
      That is the dumbest question I have ever seen on Slashdot.

      I disagree.

      We have the power to hold equipment to arbratry standards, and we use that power to ensure safety. For example, power plugs are required to have fuses - not for every day use, but for emergencies. Likewise, we design our medical equipment not to kill patients in the event of an emergency, we put earth bonding straps on cranes to keep people safe if someone accidentally hits the boom into a power line, and so on.

      Why don't we expand our arbr
  • Cellular blimps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gothzilla ( 676407 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:36PM (#13439578)
    I remember a story some time ago about a plan to deploy blimps for cell and wi-fi service. I wonder if that plan might be viable now? They could fly away for the storm then fly back shortly afterwards.
    • Re:Cellular blimps (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TGK ( 262438 )
      While it might be somewhat impracticable to put blimps up over major cities for cell coverage all the time, the use of this technology for emergancies isn't such a bad idea.

      Unfortunately, there are really two issues here. First, the ability to communicate during the disater. I'm not sure if we really need to invest too much in the problem of how to make a cell phone call during a hurricane. Evacuation is done for a reason. If you can't be bothered to leave I'm not all to sympathetic if you can't call ou
      • If you can't be bothered to leave I'm not all to sympathetic if you can't call out either.

        What if you can't afford to leave (no car), and there are no services helping you evacuate? You think those 9000 people in the SuperDome were there becaue it was fun? Anyone with an SUV left town - you can be sure of that! Even at 15mph, it's hard to out-walk a hurricane.

        Also, my .02$: I don't know how fast blimps can fly, but I suspect cell-phone blimps wouldn't be outfitted with the latest in engines. Cheapest m

    • Yeah, when the winds hit 145mph they could fly away REAL quick.

      Of course, retrieving them back from Ottawa's airspace might be tricky, what with international border disputes over softwood lumber and all.
    • They could fly away for the storm then fly back shortly afterwards.

      If they're operating at a high enough altitude, they wouldn't even need to move during the storm. 60,000 feet should do it.


    • I think you'll find that the comms blimps you're remembering [] are flying somewhat higher than the cloud base (ie: the stratosphere) so their flight wouldn't be affected by the storm.

      Comms, on the other hand, would likely be disrupted by all the static electricity and lightning until a storm passed by. No worse than terrestrial cellular towers, though.

  • by jav1231 ( 539129 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:37PM (#13439585)
    WTF do people expect? Millions of people displaced and each having at least one relative and likely several in other parts of the world trying to reach them. This is to be expected. Why should a network outage and phone difficulties be news in such a catastrophy?
    • During the cold war, radio antennae were designed to be retracted underground in antipication of a nuclear strike, and to have a motor strong enough to push their way through several foot of rubble after the blast

      If you could combine this concept with a wind power generator, you could have more a resilient network - Suppose cell phone towers could have a wind speed monitor and shutdown if the wind speed exceeded a certain limit, rather than wait to be knocked down in a blizzard or a storm?
  • by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:38PM (#13439592)
    I live in Charlotte, NC, and it's often difficult to place a cell phone call during rush hour traffic here. If we had a major disaster, no doubt the same thing would happen to us. The cell phone networks obviously were only designed to support a small fraction of the total number of cell phone users in the area at any given time.
  • by Cr0w T. Trollbot ( 848674 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:40PM (#13439610)

    -Crow T. Trollbot

  • I've got a friend (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the_skywise ( 189793 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:41PM (#13439620)
    who's evacuated out of state and has a cell phone with long distance service, but people are having problems calling TO him. Presumably because the call is still trying to get to New Orleans to figure out where to forward his phone call.
    • This is unfortunately true. The reason for this is simple: The network tries to route the call first to the area code where the cell phone was registered. Seeing it listed as 504 (for New Orleans) causes the system to try and go to New Orleans first to see if it can connect. With the existing network in tatters the response back is a failure, which instead of making the call do a search to see where the phone is, gets routed to either a message saying 'all circuits are busy' or 'due to the hurricane in
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:44PM (#13439657) []
    Amateur Radio Volunteers Involved in Katrina Recovery (Aug 30, 2005) -- Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) volunteers in Louisiana are engaged in the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, and more are waiting in the wings to help as soon as they can enter storm-ravaged zones. Winds and flooding from the huge storm wreaked havoc in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama after Katrina came ashore early Monday, August 29. Louisiana ARES Section Emergency Coordinator Gary Stratton, K5GLS, told ARRL that some 250 ARES members have been working with the Red Cross and the state's Office of Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness. Much of the affected areas remain flooded and dangerous, however. As a result, state officials have not allowed emergency or other units to enter the flooded zones, and there is still no communication with many coastal areas.
  • why can't all the people of a city make contact during an emergency?

    Phone networks are engineered for predicted average demand. This level is occasionally exceeded during regular use. The demand for communications during an event such as hurricane Katrina skyrockets. To build a network capable of satisfying these peak demands would multiply the average user's bill, and few people would sign up.

    Quite simple, really.
  • by geddes ( 533463 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:45PM (#13439667)
    Technology can certainly help us in times of need. The Mayor of New Orleans was able to order an evacuation, through the great telecommunication and media infrastructures that we have, people were able to be warned, which probably saved thousands of lives. I say this, because when natural disasters like this hit third world countries, there are many, many, many more deaths. So our communications infrastructure and other technologies DO HELP. Of course, we have had television and radio and the like for a while, an evacuation and warning like this would have been possible probably even 40 years ago. This catagory of technology would also include things like interstate highways, helicopters, boats, and the like, which help rescue operations get where they are needed. Another development we have that helps is a highly organized and functional government. George Bush can immediately grant disaster funding to these states and the rescue operations get moving. Without government direction and organization, it would take whatever volunteer goodwill organizations that go down there a lot longer to coordinate their efforts, and would be much less effective. It is true that the cell phones stop working when the power is cut to the tower, but the same is true for regular phones. But, the amazing thing is, to restore phone service we can fly a couple satellites, which is a lot easier than waiting for the water to recede and rebuild all the phone lines. So technology is helping in this case as well. A disaster like this does show us how powerful nature is, and that sometimes there is nothing we can do to stop a disaster, but we can do our best to minimize the tragedy.
  • by MooseTick ( 895855 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:45PM (#13439671) Homepage
    It seems like Verizon, Sprint or someone could make a boatload of money from opportunities like this. They could have a few mobile cell towers that run from generators. When a tornado, hurricane, wind storms, or whatever hit, they truck those towers in as temporary replacements. The local government will appreciate it. The local cell phone users will appreciate it. The people not on their plan will make them a bundle in roaming fees!

    They could store them centrally inthe country. Since they usually have a large warning, they could get them nearby the pending storm. Right after the storm clears, instant tower.

    3. Profit
    • We already have this. []
    • As has already been pointed out cell sites on wheels do exist. The problem is cell sites still need landlines hooked up to them to provide service.
    • by pg110404 ( 836120 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:58PM (#13439783)
      This is probably in bad taste, but why did I have an image of that "can you hear me now?" guy in a rowboat going down the streets of new orleans?
    • It seems like Verizon, Sprint or someone could make a boatload of money from opportunities like this. They could have a few mobile cell towers that run from generators. When a tornado, hurricane, wind storms, or whatever hit, they truck those towers in as temporary replacements.

      You mean like COLTs [] (Cell on Light Trucks)? This seems like prior art to me:

      Rapid Disaster Response - COLTs
      Verizon Wireless "Cell on Light Trucks" (COLTs) can process thousands of calls every hour in the event cell sites or o

    • Not in this case. The water is still rising. People are still being evacuated.
      If conditions are such that you can't run the regular towers, you probably can't get in to set up mobile ones. Unless you drop floating ones in by chopper.

      If the water had already receded, they could run the regular towers off generators, and not need the mobiles.

      Some sort of non-ground based comm is necessary.

    • by dougmc ( 70836 )

      It seems like Verizon, Sprint or someone could make a boatload of money from opportunities like this.

      Ok, let's assume that Verizon has a fleet of mobile cell towers with generators, solar powered blimp repeaters, etc. all ready to go to New Orleans on a moment's notice.

      In order to make a boatload of money, somebody would have to pay for it. Who would pay?

      Sure, the service would be worth paying for, but Verizon would immediately be accused of price gouging if they tried to actually get somebody

  • Simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @05:45PM (#13439674) Homepage
    The networks are not designed for theoretical maximum capacity, they are designed for average peak observed capacity. If there are 1 million cell phones in use and only 10-20% of them are actively transmitting at a time during normal use, why shell out for 5 times as much infrastructure as is needed to support that level of use? A catastrophe like Katrina or 9/11 only happens once every few years; the rest of the time the excess capacity would only be draining resources - not just from the corporate bottom line, but from maintaining the 10-20% of the equipment that's actually used by subscribers.
  • Gee, this is a tough one...

    Well, lets start with the obvious: Mobile phones have to connect to a network via a series of towers. Now, with the power out, some towers will be down, diminishing the available coverage. Some towers, however, have their own generators. permitting them to run despite power interruptions. Few of those, I imagine, come equipped with snorkel kits in the event 25 feet of water come rushing over them, and so have likely stopped working.

    Next up is communication lines. In case it wasn't
  • Hey! I'm in New Orleans and my cell is just working fi

  • HAMS: Help Needed! (Score:2, Informative)

    by SonicSpike ( 242293 )
    After watching all of the major news outlets they are all mentioning that communications in and out of the city of New Orleans is practically nullified.

    Tens of thousands (if not a hundred thousand) or more are trapped in the city following hurricane Katrina. This problem is worsened by the fact that after this cyclone, the city is flooded and the waters are RISING, not receding! This is an urgent situation and needs immediate attention!

    Because of the need of hundreds of search and r
  • They need to drain the city to get the power back on, they need power to drive the pumps to drain the city...

    I've heard some officials speculating that New Orleans could be under water for weeks or even months. My heart goes out to everyone affected by this tragedy.

    I always thought that the biggest hazard to New Orleans was the Mississippi overflowing, since they had two 100-year flood seasons back to back in the last decade.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    During this disaster Amateur radio operators (almost always the first communications up and running) have been of significant assistence.

    BPL will make amateur radio effectivly unusable if it is implemented widely.

    But but but... I hear you saying... BPL won't be creating interference when the power is down!

    What people forget is that amateur radio operators use thier radios between disasters, including practice disaster scenarios.

    If BPL becomes widespread then they (we) will be significantly disadvantaged and
  • Aside from all the folks saying you can only have so many circuits, and the towers will blow down, and the wires will tear in the wind, etc. This is still a good question to ask. We are a high tech society, so presumably we could figure solutions to some of this?

    Like ...

    1. Run hard wires underground to protect them from wind. Obviously some places already does this, and it has the side benefit of eliminating unsightly overhead wires.

    2. Protect the underground wiring from water. We obviously know how t

    • Well, the best I think that can be guaranteed is HAM and other like systems. I don't know if you can reasonably build any infrastructure that is going to be guaranteed to survive a class 4 or 5 hurricane. Even underground wiring can, and very likely will become inundated when you have 6 to 20 feet of water on top of it. It's gonna have to be a communications system based on batteries and portable generators, whether its HAM or satellite or whatever.
  • Dropping solar-powered wireless mesh nodes [] where needed.

    Hey, imagine all those nerds stuck in emergency shelters that can't read /. right now! Don't you think they'd appreciate this?
  • A friend of mine has been able to get text messages out of Biloxi, MS (he is OK, thank God!). Now they're struggling to find the closest operational airport to get them back home (they were contract workers - were because what they were working on is now decimated).
  • 212 Calling 504 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:20PM (#13439949) Homepage Journal
    In NYC after the 9/11/2001 planebombs blew up the World Trade Center, including the vast telecom infrastructure centered in 7 World Trade, phone service was crippled. But for the city government, that lasted only a couple of days. The City's IT department ("DoITT") took an in-house VoIP experiment, and prematurely deployed it to over 50,000 of the City government's 75,000 desk phones. They actually worked a few blocks from the smoke-choked Ground Zero to install telecom servers over existing TCP/IP LANs. Which gave not only dialtone, but the conferencing, connectivity and security demanded by that unprecedented crisis. The next several weeks saw the high performance of that emergency replacement, coping with the vast weight of the telecom organizing the city's recovery from the catastrophe.

    New Orleans ain't New York City. I lived there, too, and I know it's hardly "Silicon Alley": It's Carbon Swamp. The telecom services there aren't really comparable to NYC's, even on leisurely good days. But the Big Easy could take a lesson from the Big Apple, just as all cities can. We proved that disaster recovery can be highly effective, and those results are available to the world. These scale disasters are becoming more frequent. People should become familiar with techniques for coping with them now, before the crisis, when planning and preparation can be done on one's own schedules, and not merely the best one can do when disaster strikes.
  • by antdude ( 79039 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:21PM (#13439956) Homepage Journal
    Big shot []. It is 6200x8000 pixels and 8.4 MB big. Amazing how clear and big we can get with today's satellites.
  • SMS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @06:57PM (#13440288)
    Instead of trying to retain full voice, wouldn't it be better to just limit none essential mobiles to text? Then the system could survive on far fewer base stations, but retain some communications for all. You can surely get many more text messages through the network than voice.
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2005 @09:41PM (#13441725) Homepage
    Back in the late seventies and early eighties, Gerard K. O'Neill, famous for the development of the idea of orbital space habitats, made the rounds of the government and corporate powers to strongly propose the idea of the satellite phone. He wanted to have a profit-making reason to go into space to realize his dreams.

    The prototype phone he showed around was about the size of a cellular handset you could buy today.

    O'Neill's project never made it out of the gate. Too expensive for a private company to make, and we are all about private companies.

    Bill Gates famously put some of his cash into a six billion dollar venture called Iridium which actually still functions. At least, unless they've deorbitted due to budget woes. They went bankrupt, and the US government picked it up for pennies on the dollar. That's one way of getting a cheap satphone system.

    America and the rest of the planet went a different route, for purely business reasons. It was more profitable to roll out cellular coverage in stages, as customers could be found to pay the bills. They make fabulous amounts of money.

    But as we see today in New Orleans, although cell phones passed the money test, they've utterly failed to support their users. People are dying out there because the cheap, easy-to-build cell towers are powerless and flooded.

    Sometimes, and I can't see how much more forcefully a point can be made than an entire region falling out of communication, engineering for critical infrastructure should NOT BE LEFT SOLEY TO THE FREE MARKET.

    The military is flying in satphones so that rescuers and cops can finally talk to each other.

    Iridium, or a successor should be government subsidized, expanded, and maintained as a national security asset. Screw the cell phone companies. Screw the billionaires. Make a national phone company, like the post office. Let it operate independently, for profit, but chartered to provide service for all, from the satellites in the sky, at subidized prices. Priority for disasters. We need this. It is not an optional extra for civilization.

    I know someone who can't rest because a relative was driving north on I-10 and hasn't been heard from in over two days. He should be able to phone. A prison has rioted, and no one can get through to find out what's going on.

    If we can spend a trillion- yes, after it is over, a trillion will be spent-- on this war in Iraq, we can spend a few measly billion dollars a year in perpetuity to make sure this infrastructure failure never happpens again.

    Libertarians, this one's for you. A lesson in humility and sanity. Government is sometimes the only solution.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller