T&D World Magazine

Gulf Coast Critical Infrastructure Communication Networks Perform Through Hurricanes

During the major hurricane season of 2005, the private, internal networks--radio, microwave and fiber--of electric, gas and water utilities for the most part continued to function throughout and immediately after the storms. According to a research report by the United Telecom Council (UTC), these systems worked reliably--as designed--to support restoration and recovery after this season's devastating natural disasters. Internal communications networks are relied on by utilities in these instances in their role as part of the emergency responder community, and in many communities during this hurricane season, were the only functioning communications in the first days the hurricanes hit.

The UTC Research Report, titled "Hurricanes of 2005: Performance of Gulf Coast Critical Infrastructure Communications Networks" was undertaken by UTC, the trade association representing the telecommunications and IT interests of critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities, to enlarge on anecdotal evidence offered by members in hurricane-devastated areas. Specific findings of UTC's report include:

  • 86% of impacted CII entities responding reported that their communications networks generally survived the hurricanes and continued to operate well throughout restoration efforts.
  • Private land mobile radio (LMR) networks provided critical communications among crews; however, the huge number of responding utility personnel from around the country taxed capacity or could not operate on local systems, pointing up the need for CII interoperability.
  • Utility fiber and microwave systems survived and generally continued to function; this was due in part to built-in redundancies, robustness and recovery mechanisms that would be cost-prohibitive for a for-profit network designed to serve the general public. Therefore, CII entities will continue to require private networks to meet mission-critical needs for the foreseeable future, along with the ability to expand them as needed to meet system growth requirements.
  • Unfortunately, there was little or no consistent coordination with state or local agencies or public safety organizations during or after the storms. Given the opportunities for improved response communications offered by robust CII systems, and the presence of CII personnel "on the ground" in nearly every disaster scenario, this lack emphasizes that CII must be included in emergency response planning at the Federal level.
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