The inability of government officials and first responders to communicate during a response to an emergency – whether terrorist attacks, natural disasters, or everyday operations – results in the loss of lives. Problems with communications operability and interoperability constituted one of the main reasons for governments’ failures in response to Katrina. Operability refers to the basic functionality of any device (“Is it working?”). Interoperability refers to the device’s ability to connect with other devices and share voice or data communications (“Can the police talk to firemen?” or “Can hospitals electronically share patient medical records with emergency health-care providers?”)
While there can be no interoperable communications where no communications exists at all – the situation confronting many fi rst responders in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast immediately aft er Katrina – an interoperable communications system may be more resilient than “stove- piped” systems. For example, systems can be built with tower sites that have overlapping coverage so that if a single tower goes down, total coverage is not lost in a particular area.