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Hurricane Ida Response Reminds Us That Resilient Infrastructure Is Not a Luxury

As Invest 99L (soon to be Hurricane Ida) began to spin in the Caribbean Sea on August 25th, I wonder if the hairs began to stand up on the backs of the necks of Gulf Coast emergency managers.

The first discussion regarding what would be known by the 26th as “Tropical Depression Nine” was issued by the National Hurricane Center at 11:00 a.m. EDT that morning. It contained the following paragraph:

 “Once the system moves into the Gulf of Mexico, conditions are expected to be conducive for additional strengthening, and rapid intensification is explicitly shown in the NHC forecast between 48 and 72 hours. The NHC intensity forecast brings the system near major hurricane strength when it approaches the northern Gulf coast on Sunday.”

This is widely considered to be one of the most well-forecasted storms in recorded history. Within hours of Ida’s formation, computer models soon agreed that Ida would have the Louisiana coastline in her crosshairs.

What can be done in 72 hours to prepare for a major hurricane? You can board up windows, stack sandbags to minimize localized flooding, reposition resources like emergency services and heavy equipment, etc. But what can you do to ensure that once the storm passes, you retain the same command and control capabilities as you had the day before?

You’ll need a mobile solution that can stitch together the remaining (likely incompatible) communications infrastructure, as well as fill in the gaps that exist immediately after the storm passes.

The Emergency Response Integrated Edge Network (ERIEN) was created by NTS in partnership with Klas Telecom, Tampa Microwave, and Persistent Systems.

ERIEN is a mobile platform that provides complete, unified communications (SATCOM, Radio, VoIP, MANET, Edge Server) infrastructure in places where existing communications infrastructure is non-existent or unusable, such as in a disaster area.

Ida’s eyewall would arrive at Port Fourchon, Louisiana late Sunday morning (exactly 72 hours after the NHC’s first public notification) as a strong Category 4 hurricane with estimated wind speeds of 150 MPH, gusting even higher.

It would bring storm surges of up to 10 feet and rainfall amounts up to 20 inches in some areas, and in the end, it would put southern Louisiana’s power and communications infrastructure offline for what some estimate could be months in some localities.

Massive electrical transmission towers crumbled into the Mississippi, nearly half of the local cell towers were folded over like dinner napkins, and just as Ida’s wrath moved inland it was now more important than ever that emergency managers, governmental agencies, and first responders be able to coordinate and communicate their response.

It’s too early to say what specific issues were and are being encountered by emergency managers and responders in the disaster area, but we can assume based on recent history that wind and flood damage, along with widespread power outages have:

  • Severely limited the availability of mobile data service and radio transceivers
  • Created a situation where the communications systems that remain in service are likely overwhelmed and incompatible with one another, requiring information to be relayed over and over, if even possible.

How valuable is an organization’s network and data infrastructure? Ask them after they’ve been hit by a major hurricane.

For more information on how ERIEN works, click here.