The earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 is responsible for the deaths of more than 14,000 people, a nuclear plant disaster, and untold loss in property damage and other economic impacts. Of course, the situation in Japan is just one of the recent natural disasters that have shaken our world. Just last month a massive tornado outbreak decimated areas of Alabama and other parts of the South, killing at least 295 people. That was the worst of it, but not all of it. In what is being called the single largest tornado outbreak in U.S. history, more than 300 tornadoes hit 14 states between April 25 and 28.
The impacts of the death and destruction from these two natural disasters and others like them cannot be underestimated. But I think we can all agree that things would’ve been a whole lot worse were it not for the ability of emergency responders, as well as victims and their families, to keep in contact via communications networks.
That was the message put forth by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this week in a speech on disaster recovery. “It is an unfortunate irony that disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes often provide the best opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of communications infrastructure,” the chairman said.
Redundant and mesh-based broadband networks helped to limit losses in Japan, Genachowski said, by providing a means to send early warning alerts to cell phones and TV stations; to shut down energy plans, industrial facilities and transportation services automatically; and to enable folks with mobile devices to get information, and let family and friends know their whereabouts.
So that’s the good news. The bad news is that the United States doesn’t currently have a comparable earthquake warning system, which is something we should consider, Genachowski said. He went on to talk about the great strides the FCC has made recently to strengthen the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s communications systems – saying that Sept. 11, and Hurricane Katrina four years later, helped to spur such efforts.
While the FCC last month launched a Notice of Inquiry on the Reliability and Continuity of Communications Networks to examine the most effective ways to ensure that our critical communications infrastructure is prepared when disaster strikes, and it’s been discussing how to interconnect the radio networks of first responders so they fire fighters and police can communicate in future emergency situations, most of that work is still on paper.
Learning from natural disasters like the extreme earthquakes in Japan and Haiti, as well as the twisters in the U.S., we need to make networks more available, reliable, and linked to emergency and other basic infrastructure systems as if our lives depended on it.
Where do you think we should start?