Tactical communications is a critical component of successful emergency and disaster response. Response and recovery activities are provided by a host of local, state, federal and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and those need to be coordinated. First responders, regardless of which agency they represent, need to talk to each other and share situational information and data quickly and reliably. Responders at the scene of areas impacted by disaster need to communicate needs to individuals and organizations that can provide resources.
STATE EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER (SEOC)
The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) is a state-of-the-art multi-agency coordination center located on Independence Boulevard in Baton Rouge. From this location, disaster planning, response initiatives and mitigation activities are coordinated and managed. The SEOC is activated in response to natural disasters and other emergencies, including man-made disasters, terrorist threats or other significant events. The SEOC serves as a central operations center for emergency management.
During disasters and emergencies when the need for resources exceeds local capability, GOHSEP assists parish and local governments and coordinates the state’s response activities, including interaction with the federal government, nonprofit, faith-based, volunteer and private-sector partners through the SEOC. The SEOC is activated at the discretion of the Director of GOHSEP in response to an emergency or disaster event or when an incident is imminent.
The SEOC is equipped with communications, mapping and intelligence gathering technology designed to increase situational awareness and facilitate information dissemination. The State Unified Command Group (UCG) – the strategic decision-making body for emergency response – coordinates and manages activities from the SEOC.
FIRST RESPONDER VOICE COMMUNICATIONS
The capability of first responders, state agencies and leadership to seamlessly communicate is paramount during emergency events and disasters. In the decade since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) has made significant investments to give Louisiana an advanced system that allows for reliable communications during catastrophic incidents and other emergencies.
Interoperable communications is the ability of emergency service agencies to communicate across disciplines and jurisdictions, using wireless networks to exchange real-time voice, data and imagery information.
During Hurricane Katrina, some emergency responders were hindered when operating on the statewide 800MHz analog system and could not communicate with other emergency service personnel. Communications systems maintained by local governments suffered severe and debilitating damage from the force of the hurricanes which further restricted emergency response communications and cell phone services were lost because of the number of towers that were destroyed.
Since 2005, Louisiana (local and State agencies) has invested more than $180 million – about half coming from federal preparedness grants – to develop the Louisiana Wireless Information Network (LWIN).
Today, LWIN is the largest statewide radio system in the country and provides daily voice communication to over 79,000 users. LWIN provides 95 percent portable on-street radio coverage throughout the state, and 95 percent in-building coverage to nine (9) metropolitan areas in Louisiana. Of those users, more than 70 percent are from local jurisdictions. Responders now experience seamless communications across Louisiana. The LWIN network can also link to contiguous border networks.
The system is fully maintained by the state and charges no fees to its users. Users are authorized by the state and include local, state and federal first responder agencies.
“The LWIN system is an example of how our state has become more resilient and safer during the years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” said Kevin Davis, Director of GOHSEP. “A key factor during a crisis event is the ability to communicate with each other to efficiently mobilize our resources. LWIN significantly enhances our ability to do that.”
An important feature of LWIN is coverage and redundancy. LWIN provides 95% on street portable radio coverage statewide and 95% in building coverage in the nine (9) metropolitan areas of the state. When a tower loses connectivity, the state has multiple systems in place to provide continuous communications for the affected area. Redundant systems include mobile tower and mobile satellite sites that can be deployed to the area. Each mobile tower site has a 15 mile coverage radius and the mobile satellite trailer provides connectivity back to the master sites. Where additional capacity is needed or the tower building is lost mobile repeaters are available. If the power goes out, generators provide backup power. If cell phones go down, the state maintains a cache of 700 megahertz radios that can be issued. LWIN has 128 active tower sites, four (4) mobile tower sites, two (2) mobile repeater sites, four (4) mobile satellite dishes, six (6) generators on wheels and four (4) master sites. LWIN handles approximately 12 million average push-to-talk transmissions monthly.
CONNECTING NEEDS TO RESOURCES
WebEOC is a secure internet-based emergency information management application that provides operational details from various government and public safety groups in response to an imminent threat, emergency or disaster. The state utilizes WebEOC as its official emergency management software system
WebEOC allows for the secure sharing of information and is the primary channel for parishes to request assistance after an emergency or disaster. Users interact with GOHSEP for situational reporting, including daily reports; requesting resources; requesting, scheduling and coordination of Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs); sharing information; and more through WebEOC.
FIRST RESPONDER DATA SHARING
FirstNet is an independent organization created by Congress to cost-effectively develop a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety data sharing – the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN). When complete, the NPSBN will provide first responders and other safety personnel a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety data sharing, sharing of applications, and access to databases, providing better service through improved communications.
Through a federal grant to Louisiana – through Louisiana FirstNet – Louisiana local, regional, state and tribal public safety groups are working with the national FirstNet organization in its goal of identifying local interoperability wireless data needs, identifying service gaps, setting priorities and participating in the planning for the build out of the NPSBN. Like LWIN, Louisiana FirstNet is under the general direction of the SIEC.
AMATEUR RADIO COMMUNICATIONS
An important element in contingency operations is the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) organization. These are volunteer amateur radio operators who are dedicated to providing emergency communications to Louisiana in times of extraordinary need. Together, communications initiatives developed since the devastating 2005 hurricanes have created a stronger, safer and more resilient Louisiana.
GOHSEP.LA.GOV and Get A Game Plan
The GOHSEP website, gohsep.la.gov, is a gateway to news and emergency information, social media links to GOHSEP Facebook, Twitter, public service announcements (PSAs) and YouTube videos, icons to download apps, information about state emergency and hazard mitigation plans, information on major hazards and opportunities for citizens to become informed and engaged in volunteer activities.
The gohsep.la.gov website has a page dedicated to information about hurricanes Katrina and Rita as the 10th anniversary of those storms are observed during August 29 and September of this year. The Katrina/Rita page includes a recap of storm impacts from the hurricanes, status of the recovery and a calendar of 10th anniversary events.
GOHSEP maintains GetaGameplan.org, a dynamic web-based education and information portal to provide Louisiana citizens the ability to better prepare for, monitor and respond to disasters and other emergencies. The Get A Game Plan website contains everything from shelter locations to a downloadable copy of the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Guide. The 26 page guide provides an overview of what residents can do to be better prepared, ready to respond, able to recover and how to mitigate the impacts of future incidents. Emergency preparedness guide downloads are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Get a Game Plan guides families through the process of preparing for emergencies Louisiana faces through an all-hazards preparations approach. The site offers sections on Family Plan, Business Plan, Mitigation Plan, and Kid’s Plan, to encourage the development of a culture of preparedness. Within individual sections the site provides recommendations for emergency kits and evacuation plans, business continuity planning, weather alert sign ups and more.
GetaGameplan.org is also available as an app. The app identifies places to evacuate, and it includes pet sheltering and special needs information, evacuation maps for viewing in the event of an emergency or national disaster with additional panels for routes, and a place to record a list of important numbers. Also, the Get A Business Plan app has information needed for a business owner to prepare for a disaster.
Another app featured at GetaGameplan.org, Alert FM, functions like a weather radio, but with unique local alerts for the public from emergency officials.
GetaGameplan.org has links to other apps and websites that contain pre-disaster planning tips, hazard mitigation steps and other emergency preparation. The site can be accessed directly or through a link from the main gohsep.la.gov. portal.
In addition to resources that can be found in the Business Plan section of Get A Game Plan and through the Get A Business Plan app, Louisiana businesses have the ability to connect with the Louisiana Business Emergency Operations Center (LA BEOC). LA BEOC works with businesses to improve emergency and disaster response and recovery through preparedness communications before, during and after an emergency. Businesses that have products or services that may be needed in preparation for a disaster, during a disaster or after one has struck, can register now on the LA BEOC website. LA BEOC also provides disaster alerts. Registration is free at labeoc.org.
Individuals, families and businesses have immediate access to important communications about disasters and other emergencies through emergency.louisiana.gov, an online resource that carries immediate information, archives about past events and links to state, federal and non-profit organizations involved with disasters.