June 1, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Telecoms call for legal fixes after Katrina

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Days after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast last August, repair crews hoping to breathe life into a damaged telephone network were temporarily blocked by government officials who refused to give phone company workers permission to enter a disaster-stricken area.

And when looting and gunfire erupted in New Orleans, bureaucratic mix-ups and problems in communication delayed efforts by BellSouth to revive a rapidly growing number of dead telephone lines that could have saved lives had they been working.

With the formal start of hurricane season on Thursday, some of the nation's largest wireless and wireline providers are vowing to prevent that from happening again. Through private correspondence and in public statements, telecommunications companies are calling on President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security to change the way the government responds to a natural disaster, and a federal panel is expected to release a report in two weeks.

Timeline: A disaster unfolds

Aug. 29, 2005: Katrina makes landfall near the Mississippi-Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane. Floodwaters breach levees surrounding New Orleans.

Aug. 30, 2005: Reports of looting and gunfire emerge. Utility companies gradually begin assessing damage.

Sept. 6, 2005: BellSouth estimates 810,000 phone lines remain down in the affected regions, with all but 19 of its 131 central offices up and running. It estimates the cost of the damage at $400 million to $600 million.

Sept. 14, 2005: U.S. senators request immediate allocation of $5 billion in federal funds to finance new hardware for emergency operators.

January 6, 2006: FCC announces creation of an independent panel to assess communications problems faced during Katrina

January 30, 2006: The president's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee releases a formal report calling for telecommunications providers to be designated "emergency responders"

February 23, 2006: White House issues its Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned report, acknowledging that "lawlessness also delayed restoration of essential private sector services such as power, water, and telecommunications."

One answer would be to change federal policy and recognize telecommunications workers as "emergency responders." That designation would let them work more closely with authorities on the scene and to obtain "nonmonetary" federal help, such as security escorts and "priority" access to fuel, water and shelter.

"We're not looking for financial support, but the recognition and the arms-and-legs support to make sure we have the appropriate access at the right time...to make sure infrastructure is restored as soon as possible," said Michael Hickey, head of Verizon's national security team and a member of a Federal Communications Commission advisory panel on Hurricane Katrina.

Leaving existing federal rules unchanged "could certainly hamper our ability to respond to our customers--both commercial customers and government customers," said David Barron, BellSouth's associate vice president for national security.

Neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security were immediately available for interviews with CNET News.com this week. (A White House report did acknowledge, however, that "the lawlessness also delayed restoration of essential private sector services such as power, water and telecommunications.")

One example that's been cited as illustrating federal inaction came when BellSouth found a soggy, unhappy crowd of people outside its main downtown New Orleans switching facility soon after Katrina blew over. Company executives said they feared the crowd would try to forcibly enter the building to seize the food and water supplies inside--which could have disrupted the fragile telecommunications network even more.

"We had our own security forces that really were overextended and overwhelmed," Barron said. "Our facilities were physically being threatened. Gunshots were fired."

But its request wasn't immediately fulfilled because bureaucrats decided it might run afoul of the Stafford Act--and BellSouth was forced to evacuate its employees from the Poydras Street building.

By the third day after the storm descended, BellSouth had opted to bring in enough private security hires to get "a lot of essential things moving," spokesman Bill McCloskey said.

 

Correction: The sidebar to this story incorrectly identified details about Hurricane Katrina as it made landfall. The storm made landfall near the Mississippi-Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane.

See more CNET content tagged:
BellSouth Corp., telecommunications, Hurricane Katrina, telecommunications company, worker

10 comments

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fault
bush's fault
Posted by sexlove2046 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
fault
bush's fault
Posted by sexlove2046 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ER Rapid deploymrnt of wireless technicians may be worth a look
As an engineer for for a major telecom carrier. I think I can comment here. I agree 200% that telecom workers must be deployed into distater areas to restore communications as quickly as possible. Crys for help save no lives if they are not heard. Also rescue coordination efforts are slowed and blocked. Lets face it people die as a direct result of comminication systems being down in a disaster area. Worse children die. Think about that. What if they were yours.

In all honesty however I must say from my experience that to my knowledge there are zero telecom workers who have any type of disater area or hazerdous situation area training what so ever. Its just not offered by any carrier to my knowledge and I would be hard pressed to launch my men into a potential death trap to restore network elements without it.

Telecom workers especially wireless technicians are a cut above most work forces. They place them selves in harms way almost every day for the sake of the networks they maintain and they enjoy it.

They are the unsung heros of our society believe me and should absolutly be regarded in the same light as the police and fire departments in the event of an emergency. But they should be trained...certified..and sanctioned by a governing agency to be better prepared to do the job they are asked to do and protect themselves and others at the same time.

They are not and so I can see the concearn of the FEDS. Perhaps if we had a trained rapid deployment emergency response task force in place in every market. We could bring this to the table with the FEDS and better be able to negotiate our point.
Posted by rkneip (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ER Rapid deploymrnt of wireless technicians may be worth a look
As an engineer for for a major telecom carrier. I think I can comment here. I agree 200% that telecom workers must be deployed into distater areas to restore communications as quickly as possible. Crys for help save no lives if they are not heard. Also rescue coordination efforts are slowed and blocked. Lets face it people die as a direct result of comminication systems being down in a disaster area. Worse children die. Think about that. What if they were yours.

In all honesty however I must say from my experience that to my knowledge there are zero telecom workers who have any type of disater area or hazerdous situation area training what so ever. Its just not offered by any carrier to my knowledge and I would be hard pressed to launch my men into a potential death trap to restore network elements without it.

Telecom workers especially wireless technicians are a cut above most work forces. They place them selves in harms way almost every day for the sake of the networks they maintain and they enjoy it.

They are the unsung heros of our society believe me and should absolutly be regarded in the same light as the police and fire departments in the event of an emergency. But they should be trained...certified..and sanctioned by a governing agency to be better prepared to do the job they are asked to do and protect themselves and others at the same time.

They are not and so I can see the concearn of the FEDS. Perhaps if we had a trained rapid deployment emergency response task force in place in every market. We could bring this to the table with the FEDS and better be able to negotiate our point.
Posted by rkneip (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ER Rapid deploymrnt of wireless technicians may be worth a look
As an engineer for for a major telecom carrier. I think I can comment here. I agree 200% that telecom workers must be deployed into distater areas to restore communications as quickly as possible. Crys for help save no lives if they are not heard. Also rescue coordination efforts are slowed and blocked. Lets face it people die as a direct result of comminication systems being down in a disaster area. Worse children die. Think about that. What if they were yours.

In all honesty however I must say from my experience that to my knowledge there are zero telecom workers who have any type of disater area or hazerdous situation area training what so ever. Its just not offered by any carrier to my knowledge and I would be hard pressed to launch my men into a potential death trap to restore network elements without it.

Telecom workers especially wireless technicians are a cut above most work forces. They place them selves in harms way almost every day for the sake of the networks they maintain and they enjoy it.

They are the unsung heros of our society believe me and should absolutly be regarded in the same light as the police and fire departments in the event of an emergency. But they should be trained...certified..and sanctioned by a governing agency to be better prepared to do the job they are asked to do and protect themselves and others at the same time.

They are not and so I can see the concearn of the FEDS. Perhaps if we had a trained rapid deployment emergency response task force in place in every market. We could bring this to the table with the FEDS and better be able to negotiate our point.
Posted by rkneip (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ER Rapid deploymrnt of wireless technicians may be worth a look
As an engineer for for a major telecom carrier. I think I can comment here. I agree 200% that telecom workers must be deployed into distater areas to restore communications as quickly as possible. Crys for help save no lives if they are not heard. Also rescue coordination efforts are slowed and blocked. Lets face it people die as a direct result of comminication systems being down in a disaster area. Worse children die. Think about that. What if they were yours.

In all honesty however I must say from my experience that to my knowledge there are zero telecom workers who have any type of disater area or hazerdous situation area training what so ever. Its just not offered by any carrier to my knowledge and I would be hard pressed to launch my men into a potential death trap to restore network elements without it.

Telecom workers especially wireless technicians are a cut above most work forces. They place them selves in harms way almost every day for the sake of the networks they maintain and they enjoy it.

They are the unsung heros of our society believe me and should absolutly be regarded in the same light as the police and fire departments in the event of an emergency. But they should be trained...certified..and sanctioned by a governing agency to be better prepared to do the job they are asked to do and protect themselves and others at the same time.

They are not and so I can see the concearn of the FEDS. Perhaps if we had a trained rapid deployment emergency response task force in place in every market. We could bring this to the table with the FEDS and better be able to negotiate our point.
Posted by rkneip (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Atypical, of the many mistakes and errors made!
Atypical of the many mistakes made by current Bush administration, riddled with jobs for the incompetent old boys more of yes men do nothing type,with much talk and grandiose propaganda, little action and no forward planning!

But then again, Bush is famous for the saying "Bring it On!" back in '03!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
atypical???
atypical = not typical
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
Atypical, of the many mistakes and errors made!
Atypical of the many mistakes made by current Bush administration, riddled with jobs for the incompetent old boys more of yes men do nothing type,with much talk and grandiose propaganda, little action and no forward planning!

But then again, Bush is famous for the saying "Bring it On!" back in '03!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
atypical???
atypical = not typical
Posted by Jackson Cracker (272 comments )
Link Flag
 

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