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Adequate communication is a recurring challenge in disaster
response. (Courtesy of California Office of Emergency Services,
|In disasters, communication difficulties are often hard to
separate from coordination difficulties, and the greatest coordination difficulties are
inter-organizational. Therefore, many of the communications, problems are those related to
inter-agency information sharing. Frequently, the means for communication exists, but for
a number of reasons, persons are hesitant to communicate with others outside their own
Inter-organizational communication is fostered by those factors which promote trust in other organizations and familiarity with how they function. These include: informal contacts, joint planning and training, preplanned agreements for the division of disaster responsibilities, and the use of similar terminology, procedures, and performance criteria. Inter-organizational radio networks, common mapping systems, and computer networks also contribute to effective communications.
COMMUNICATIONS PROBLEMS IN DISASTERS
One of the most consistent observations about disasters is that communication is inadequate. An in-depth 1986 study suggests that this is a continuing problem. Major communications problems were found in half of the six disasters evaluated (Wenger, 1986:11,14,44,76). Less clear is what constitutes adequate communication, and why it is so difficult to achieve.
In this chapter, the discussion of inter-organizational communication will focus on two main topics: 1) "pre-incident" communication; and 2) technical aspects of communication. Inter-organizational communication as it relates to resource management is discussed in Chapter 6.
RELATIONSHIP OF COMMUNICATION TO COORDINATION
Types of Information Needed for Coordination
The importance of communication is its ability to get people to work together on a common task or toward a common goal-to coordinate. It is the process by which each person understands how his individual efforts intermesh with those of others. Frequently, what are perceived as communications problems are actually coordination problems in disguise (Brunacini, 1985b:54). Disasters pose unusual demands for inter-organizational coordination. For this reason, a substantial portion of disaster communications problems are related to the exchange of information among organizations. The most crucial types of information that need to be shared are those related to:
"'People" Problems in Communication
Research on disasters suggests that many communications problems are "people problems," rather than "equipment problems" (Kilijanek, 1979:7; Quarantelli, 1965:109; Quarantelli, 1985:12; Worth, 1977:160). Communication equipment may be in short supply, but more often than not a physical means of communication is available (Quarantelli, 1985:12). Examples of "people" problems in communication include the following (Kilijanek, 1979:5; Rosow, 1977:139; Drabek, 1986:54; Quarantelli, 1983:106):
These are crucial aspects of communication that no amount of radio equipment is likely to correct (Rosow, 1977:173).
PRINCIPLEIn disasters, what are thought to be "communications problems" are often coordination problems in disguise.
THE IMPORTANCE OF "PRE-INCIDENT" COMMUNICATIONS
One key to understanding disaster communication problems is the concept of pre-incident communications. In efficient routine emergency operations, the vast majority of communications have occurred prior to the incident. The goals and tasks are often determined by tradition. They are formalized in statutes, contracts, and charters. Within various organizations, they are addressed in rules, regulations, performance standards, and standard operating procedures. The important point here is that many of these tasks are known beforehand and do not have to be communicated for each event to which an organization responds (Dynes, 1978:59; Dynes, 1981:39).
Yet, a number of observations in disasters have revealed a lack of pre-impact communications among key local disaster response organizations such as law enforcement agencies, fire departments, local emergency management agencies, and organizations in the health and welfare sectors (Wenger, 1986:76; Quarantelli, 1978:4). This may be compounded by the fact that organizations responding to disasters often include many who have had minimal previous contact, because they do not respond to local emergencies on a routine basis Quarantelli, 1983:64; Kilijanek, 1981:50).
When organizations have interacted and coordinated with each other before-hand, they have had fewer problems doing so in a disaster (Kilijanek, 1981:50,126; Dynes, 1978:58; Adams, 1981b:40,53; Tierney, 1977:155; Dynes, 1977:12; Drabek, 1986:125; Sorensen, 1985:32).
EXAMPLE: Hyatt Hotel Skywalk Collapse, Kansas City, Missouri, July 17, 1981. Although Kansas City's ambulance crews all work for a private ambulance company, they are quartered at city fire stations. It was felt that because the ambulance and fire personnel work together daily and share the same facilities, this contributed to the ease with which they worked together during the disaster (Stout, 1981:36).
EXAMPLE: Tornado, Wichita Falls, Texas, April 10, 1979. Because of frequent pre-disaster contacts, various agency heads knew each other quite well. This formed a basis for mutual expectations and understanding which facilitated the multi-organizational response (Adams, 1981b:40).
The importance of pre-disaster contact helps to explain a seemingly paradoxical observation made in a number of disasters, that smaller communities with fewer resources tended to coordinate their disaster responses better than larger, more urban areas. The explanation was that, because the emergency response agencies of the smaller communities had fewer resources, they had to coordinate and cooperate with each other to handle even the more routine emergencies. Therefore, when they had to work together in a disaster, it was not the first time they had done so Quarantelli, 1983:105).
PRINCIPLEThose who work together well on a daily basis tend to work together well in disasters.
Development of Trust
Even under the pressure of a disaster, certain preliminary information has to be exchanged before meaningful communication and coordination can take place with a member of an unfamiliar organization. Examples of the types of critical information needed include:
Emergency organizations with disaster operations responsibility frequently hesitate to coordinate with others unless these questions have been addressed. This hesitancy may exist even though there are formal plans or arrangements for the different organizations to coordinate. Unfortunately, the urgency of the disaster situation often precludes the time necessary to determine the answers to these questions on-the-spot. The result is that, unless they have been addressed before the disaster, there is a reluctance to depend on the activities of other organizations and a failure to coordinate and communicate with them (Dynes, 1978:58; Rosow, 1977:63,74,76).
When one is dependent on other team members, particularly in life-threatening situations, he needs to feel confident in their competence and reliability. Developing this level of trust often requires "pre-incident" contact over a period of time.
Resolution of Political, Personal, and Jurisdictional Disputes
Cooperation is adversely affected by preexisting personal, political, and jurisdictional disputes. Quarantelli found, for example, that conflicts within the emergency medical services (EMS) system and between it and other community sectors was a major factor hindering disaster planning. Such differences those between city and county, or public and private interests had a pervasive negative influence on cooperation. The consequences of such disputes may range from the exclusion of organizations from planning meetings to charges that an organization is transgressing another's jurisdiction or responsibility. Unfortunately, jurisdictional disputes unresolved on an everyday basis, do not tend to get resolved in disasters Quarantelli, 1983:105).
Knowledge of How Other Organizations Function
Inter-organizational teamwork requires information sharing. Persons need to know when they possess critical information required by someone in another organization, how to get it to the other person, and how to use terminology the other person will understand (Wenger, 1986:15,46). For these reasons, knowledge about how other organizations function tends to promote inter-organizational communication and coordination (Dynes, 1978:55,58).
That is why the most effective and cooperative relations seem to develop between similar organizations where each has knowledge of the internal operations of the other. With such familiarity, each organization is more likely to feel it can coordinate and exchange information with the confidence that the other is reliable and competent. Thus, police agencies tend to interact best with other law enforcement groups and fire departments to cooperate best with other fire fighting agencies (Mileti, 1975:80; Dynes, 1978:58; Rosow, 1977:185,187). Knowledge about how dissimilar organizations function is more apt to be lacking (Seismic Safety Comm, 1979:36; Quarantelli, 1983:103). Important knowledge about other organizations includes that about roles, resources, needs, terminology, and competence (Wenger, 1986:33).
Knowledge About Routine Function
In some cases, at least to a degree, knowledge of how other organizations routinely function is useful in disaster situations. For example, familiarity with another organization's terminology or competence, engendered by previous contact during routine emergencies, is likely to facilitate interaction during a disaster.
Knowledge About Preplanned Disaster Functions
In contrast, knowledge about other organizations' disaster response needs and roles are not always reliably based on familiarity with their routine functions. The responsibility for a number of important disaster roles (especially those that have little counterpart in routine emergency responses) may be ambiguous unless there is a functioning, pre-disaster, mutual agreement that clarifies the issue. In that case, knowledge about the agreement can convey knowledge about how other organizations will function. For the purpose of formulating such agreements, federal disaster planning guidelines suggest bringing together representatives of the various organizations likely to be involved in a disaster response. These agreements may be summarized in the form of disaster role matrices. A number of role matrices may have to be developed depending on the type of disaster and the jurisdictions it involves. An example of such a role matrix for a county-level disaster is shown in Fig. 5-1.
Certain organizations in disasters have needs that they must rely on other organizations to fulfill. For example, in order to muster their resources, hospitals need to have advance warning that they will be receiving patients and timely estimates of the types, numbers, and severities of casualties to be expected. This information must come from those at the disaster scene. In addition, hospitals are at the mercy of those at the scene to see that casualties are equitably distributed, so that no one hospital receives an inordinate number. As discussed later in Chapter 8, the failure to recognize these needs has been the cause for problems in many disasters.
Knowledge about the special disaster resources to which another organization has access can also be helpful. For example, local branches of state organizations (e.g., state police, state forestry) may be able to obtain state resources without the necessity of a state-wide disaster declaration. Certain organizations may have access to unusual resources valuable for disaster operations (e.g., satellite communications equipment, search dogs, devices for chemical analysis).
Standardization can also create familiarity with other organizations. To the extent that organizations agree to use the same procedures, resources, terminology, and performance criteria, they will share a common knowledge of each other's function.
The effectiveness of disaster response may depend on the ability of organizations to share resources. However, when requesting resources from another organization, the lack of standardized terminology may make it difficult to know what one will receive. The ability of a requested fire truck to carry out the mission for which it is requested may depend on the equipment it carries, its water capacity, and the number and training of its crew. All of these factors may vary among different fire departments. This problem is now being addressed in areas where the Incident Command System is in use, because it stipulates standardized terminology to describe common emergency response resources (see Chapter 7).
Figure 5-1. Role matrix - Assignment of Responsibilities. (From Emergency planning: student manual, SM-61, Washington, D.C., 1983, Federal Emergency Management Agency.)
Many police departments, fire departments, rescue units, and ambulance
services use radio codes for communication. These codes may vary from agency to agency, a
situation which interferes with inter-organizational communication.
EXAMPLE: The California Highway Patrol uses the code "11-79" to dispatch a patrol car to an accident and to advise that unit that an ambulance is en route. One of the local sheriff's departments uses the code "901T" to mean the same thing.
For this reason an increasing number of agencies are abandoning the use of radio codes in favor of simple English ("Clear Text" or "Clear Speech") (Public Safety Dept, 1975:2; ICS, 1982:26).
The likelihood that one organization will interact with and depend on an-other organization is enhanced when it is perceived that its members are competent. This is facilitated when members of such groups pass a standardized test of their knowledge, skills, and competence. Some departments require a rigorous qualifications exam as a condition of employment, which may include a test of basic knowledge as well as a test of physical agility and endurance. More advanced examinations may be required at the completion of a rookie's training and further tests become necessary for promotion. In some locales, certain public safety occupations require passing standard state exams (e.g., state standards for peace officer, firefighter, or paramedic training). In some cases, national qualification standards exist. Examples include the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, the certifying examination given by the American Board of Emergency Medicine, and the qualifications for Incident Command System training under the National Interagency Incident Management System.
Joint Planning and Training
One of the most important ways in which disaster response organization members can get to know and trust each other and become familiar with the function of other organizations is during joint planning and training activities (Dynes, 1978:58; FEMA, 1983d:14; Grollmes, 1985:8; Hildebrand, 1980:4; Stevenson, 1981:57; Adams, 1981b:47).
EXAMPLE: The Rocky Mountain Fire Academy, Denver, Colorado. The Aurora and Denver Fire Departments began sharing training resources in 1985 to combat the effects of severe bud-get restrictions and decreased tax revenues. This agreement has catalyzed dialogue not only between the two fire departments, but among other agencies and municipalities as well. For example, the personnel and administrators from the two fire departments have found themselves comparing standard operating procedures and managerial techniques and adopting the best ones from each agency. As a result of this experience, the feasibility of mutual hazardous materials response and firefighting operations are being investigated as well as the purchase of a new 800 mHz fire dispatching system (Schumacher, 1988:16).
EXAMPLE: MGM Grand Hotel fire, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 21, 1980. The county fire department had conducted training sessions to test its plans, as well as annual drills involving civil defense, police, city and county fire departments, the airport, and the local medical community. When the disaster occurred, the years of planning and rehearsal paid off . The fire, despite its magnitude, did not overwhelm local resources (Buerk, 1982:641; Parrish, 1981:12).
Importance of Informal Contacts
Even informal contacts are an important part of "pre-incident" communications (Drabek, 1986:44,125; Quarantelli, 1983:120,130; Dynes, 1977; FENIA, 1983d:205; Sorensen, 1985; Grollmes, 1985:8; Wenger, 1986:33). The value of such contacts is not only the knowledge they generate about how other organizations function, but also in the trust that may develop (Drabek, 1980:10). Even in the absence of well-developed plans, personal familiarity can facilitate coordination (Dynes, 1978:54).
EXAMPLE: Tornado and Showboat Capsizing, Lake Pomona, Kansas, June 17, 1978. The responding organizations did not have a well-developed, written plan for responding to a disaster of this type. However, many of them had functioned jointly before in routine emergencies, and what they lacked in formal plans, they made up for because of close personal acquaintances among those in charge of each organization.
"They knew each other well and they knew the local area. They were able to obtain needed resources quickly. Although they did not have a plan specifying who should do what, they put their heads together, considered options, and made decisions which respective units could act on quickly. To no small degree, the success of this operation reflected the sheriff s knowledge of the various organizations and their managers, rather than planning or prior experience. Too often this type of re-source is not recognized in emergency management, nor are those responsible encouraged to nurture it. Piles of paper plans stored away neatly on office shelves are poor substitutes for strong interpersonal relationships rooted in trust and weekly contacts." (Drabek, 1981:52,54)
Sometimes communications and resource-sharing between organizations is facilitated when a person has membership in multiple organizations. An example is the police chief who is also a member of the local Red Cross disaster committee, a civil defense group, and a municipal administrative council (Dynes, 1978:55; Sorensen, 1985:32).
EXAMPLE: The MGM Grand Hotel Fire, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 21, 1980. Bob Forbuss, the Mercy Ambulance triage officer at the scene, was also a school district trustee. He contacted the school district and arranged the dispatch of 50 school buses to the scene for the transport of survivors to a county evacuation center (Munninger, 1981:38).
There is another type of informal contact which may facilitate communication and coordination among organizations in disasters. This occurs when someone has extensive, long-term friendships with members of other important community organizations. These contacts, and the trust and loyalties which they have fostered, can expedite cooperation among the organizations to which these contacts belong Quarantelli, 1982c:69; Bush, 1981:4; OM 1982:10).
Preplanned Procedures for Developing a Strategy at the Incident
Although certain aspects of disaster response can be anticipated and planned in advance, each disaster is to some extent unique. Therefore, a specific strategy, or "action plan" has to be created at the time the individual incident occurs. By this is meant an overall, multi-organizational plan. The failure to do this is one of the reasons that different organizations responding to the disaster often do not carry out a unified, concerted effort. This post-impact creation of an incident "action plan" is facilitated if there is a prearranged, mutually agreeable procedure for the process.
One example of such a procedure which has achieved national acceptance is that used by the Incident Command System (ICS) (see Chapter 7). A simplified description is given of the procedure as it would be used in a multi-jurisdictional disaster incident:
Agency A: "I need to evacuate the people from area X."
This ICS incident action planning procedure is not a "committee process" that must somehow resolve all differences in agency objectives before any action begins. It is, however, a "team process," which by means of a sharing of objectives and priorities, formulates a set of collective directions to address the needs of the entire incident and which reduces duplication and omission of crucial tasks. Experience with the system has shown that this collective sharing of information and objectives has led to a voluntary sharing of resources and modification of individual agency objectives to meet the overall requirements of the incident (Irwin:5; ICS, 1985b).
Although "people problems" appear to be among the greatest obstacles to effective disaster communications, there are a number of technical problems that can also inhibit information exchange.
Loss of Function
Flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes are all capable of toppling antennas and interrupting normal electrical power. Commercial broadcast stations and public safety radio networks may be rendered inoperable (Seismic Safety Comm, 1983:15).
EXAMPLE: A recent study in California revealed that a number of the commercial broadcast stations, which were to be used in disasters for state officials to communicate with the public, had no provision for back-up power (JCFEDS, 1983:31,ii-48).
EXAMPLE: Earthquake, Coalinga, California, May 2, 1983. During the shaking, the police department's radio console fell on the floor and broke, disabling the system. The earthquake also cut off power to the hospital's radio, and the emergency back-up power system failed (Tierney, 1985b:33; Seismic Safety Comm, 1983:15,16,32).
Effective disaster preparedness requires that essential communications equipment have sources of back-up power. The equipment and reserve power source need to be protected against the forces of the impact. In areas of seismic risk, this equipment needs to be anchored. In flood-prone regions, it needs to be placed in elevated areas. In tornado and hurricane areas, the antennas must be able to withstand the winds, and/or back-up provisions made.
Inter-agency Radio Networks
The Problem of Frequency Incompatibility
Besides loss of function, there are other technical problems in inter-organizational disaster communications. Because of the unreliability of telephone communications in disasters, inter-organizational communications are best carried out by two-way radio. Unfortunately, public safety radio frequencies have been assigned in such a manner as to make this very difficult. Part of the problem is that radio traffic occurs on a number of different "bands." A "band" is a collection of neighboring frequencies, and it is technically possible to have a single radio that can switch to different radio frequencies on the same "band." However, the difference in frequencies on separate bands is so great that completely different radio-electronic circuits and antennas are needed. In effect, for each band a completely different radio is needed. If several organizations are on different radio frequencies in the same band, it is possible for them to communicate with each other if they all switch their radios to the same frequency. This is not possible if the frequencies used by the organizations are on different bands GCFEDS, 1983:18). Unfortunately, this is the way radio frequencies have been assigned. The bands involved are: low band (37-42 mHz); high band (150-155 mHz); UHT (450-470 mHz); UHF-TV (450-470 mHz); and the 800 mHz band (806-902 mHz). In addition there are different bands for use by the military and ham operators. Even units of similar organizations in adjacent jurisdictions cannot talk to each other using their assigned frequencies. Table 5-1 illustrates the prevalence of the problem.
This problem was discussed in a 1983 report by the California State Legislative Joint Committee on Fire, Police, Emergency and Disaster Services entitled California's Emergency Communications Crisis UCFEDS, 1983). The report states that units of the Los Angeles County Sheriff cannot communicate directly with Los Angeles City Police units because they are on different bands. Even the designated law enforcement and fire service "mutual aid" frequencies in California cannot always be used to solve the problem because many of the agencies have been assigned primary frequencies on a different band than the mutual aid frequency. In order to take advantage of the mutual aid frequency, they would have to buy a whole second set of radios, an expense that few jurisdictions are capable of bearing. At the time of the report, only 30% of the law enforcement agencies in the state had vehicles equipped to use the California Law Enforcement Mutual Aid Radio System (CLEMARS) frequencies UCFEDS, 1983:14,ii-3). The problem is illustrated by the following:
EXAMPLE: The Norco Bank Robbery and Lytle Creek Shootout, Riverside County, California, May 9, 1980. Riverside law officers (whose radios communicate on 450 mHz) were chasing bank robbers into San Bernardino County (which uses 150 mHz), and called for help from Los Angeles County (39 mHz). There were 200 fatigue-dressed (SWAT team) law enforcement officers in the hills above San Bernardino, carrying AR-16 rifles, looking for six robbers with fatigues and AR-16 rifles. Because their frequencies were incompatible, officers from the different counties could not communicate by radio, and they had to resort to hand signals and shouting. A sheriffs deputy from Riverside County was killed when the San Bernardino County Sheriff s helicopter saw him driving into an ambush, but could not warn him UCFEDS, 1983:ii-98; Irwin, 1987).
Table 5-1. Lack of Inter-organizational Radio Networks
Bel Air, CA
|Mutual aid fire companies from 23 nearby cities could not be effectively controlled, because they were all operating on different radio frequencies (Bahme, 1978:70).|
|Lack of a common radio frequency complicated National Guard activities; various mobile equipment operated on different radio pieces of frequencies (Stallings, 1971:13).|
San Fernando Valley, CA
|One conspicuous weakness of the hospital radio network was its lack of tie-in to police and fire radio systems (1971:28).|
|Lessons: communications can be a problem if there are no common radio frequencies; coordination is difficult if you cannot talk with all field units (Troeger, 1976).|
|A hard look should be given to communications from the hospital to other governmental units (Swint, 1976:45).|
Bandera, Kendall, & Keff Co.'s, TX
|Inter-agency communications was mentioned as a leading cause of coordination difficulties (Drabek, 1981:89).|
Three Mile Island, PA
|Hospital communications must be linked to emergency operations centers (Maxwell, 1982:299).|
Las Vegas, NV
|Police, ambulances, public works, fire department, and helicopters were unable to communicate through a central command center at the scene, so many efforts were delayed and coordination difficulties were magnified (White, 1981:31).|
Kansas City, KS
|A coordinated, interfacing communications network should be available to all responding emergency service units (Grollmes, 1985:10; KC Health Dept, 1981:24b).|
|Police, fire, and ambulance agencies could not communicate directly with one another by radio (Morris, 1982:63).|
|Major problems included the lack of common radio frequencies for fire, law enforcement, and public utility crews (Seismic Safety Comm, 1983:96).|
Lenoir Co., NC
|Overtaxed radio communications were made worse by the lack of a common frequency (Deats, 1985:52).|
|Because departments at the scene did not have a common radio frequency, messages had to be conveyed by runners or shouting (Gallagher, 1985:44).|
Yuba County, CA
|A common radio frequency is needed for responders who must coordinate with one another (Sac Fire Com, 1986).|
EXAMPLE: Flash Floods, Bandera, Kendall, and Kerr Counties, Texas, August 1-4, 1978. "One county sheriff recounted the intense frustration he felt while standing aside his cruiser that was parked at a ravaging riverbank. He had no way to communicate with a pilot in a helicopter that was hovering over a victim hidden from [the pilot's] view by tree branches. A communication chain linked him to a dispatcher, who, in turn, could reach a state agency that could relay messages to the federal military base that had radio contact with the pilot. The chain was activated minimally, however. When used episodically, these chains reflected the consequences of distortion typically found in such multiperson relays." (Drabek, 1985a:88)
As stated by one emergency services coordinator in California, "Law enforcement agencies cannot communicate with the fire services; the fire service cannot communicate with the California Highway Patrol; the CHP is unable to communicate with units of the Sheriff's Department; cities are unable to communicate with the county and the list goes on and on." (JCFEDS, 1983:16)
EXAMPLE: Chlorine Gas Leak, Santa Rosa, California, July, 1982. This incident required the evacuation of approximately 2,000 people and the response of over 20 different agencies, including four law enforcement agencies, four fire departments, seven county agencies, five state agencies, and three volunteer agencies. During the response, the two cities involved Santa Rosa and Sebastopol could only communicate with each other by phone, and the on-scene incident commander could not communicate directly with all of the responding agencies to coordinate their activities. Command, control, and coordination could not be properly exercised, nor could vital information be readily exchanged between two local governments (JCFEDS, 1983:16).
The situation was described as even worse for emergency medical services. As in the case of law enforcement, different neighboring ambulances and EMS units have been assigned radio frequencies on different bands. But, unlike law enforcement and fire services, not even one of these bands had a frequency set aside for mutual aid communications. Because of this, ambulances were re-ported to lack any effective contact with hospitals or others when transporting over any significant distances. In addition, ambulances had to share the same frequency with non-emergency users such as veterinarians, tow trucks, washing machine repairmen, concrete companies, trucking companies, and boat repairmen. The report criticized the lack of a dedicated radio link between the medical community, the county emergency operations centers, the State Office of Emergency Services, and the State Department of Health Services UCFEDS, 1983:15,26,98,ii-138).
Lack of radio frequency compatibility likewise was said to prevent communications with other agencies likely to be involved in disaster responses, such as the California Department of Transportation, the county health agencies, and the National Guard UCFEDS, 1983:ii-19).
Clearly, these emergency communications problems are not unique to California. Since the time of the report, California has taken several steps to correct their problem. The California State Office of Emergency Services has developed an emergency, multi-organizational VHF mobile coordination frequency, CALCORD. This will allow mobile units of fire, law enforcement, medical, and other disaster responding agencies to communicate with each other. In addition, the California State EMS Authority is trying to negotiate a statewide emergency medical services coordination frequency. The EMS Authority has also developed several other sophisticated communications networks (including the use of amateur radio, cellular telephone, computer links) and has state ad-ministration approval for satellite communications capability (Koehler, 1987).
PRINCIPLEDisasters create the need for coordination among fire departments, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, ambulances, military units, utility crews, and other organizations. This requires inter-agency communication networks utilizing compatible radio frequencies.
It would be an oversimplification to suggest that the mere development of a mutual, multi-disciplinary, multi-agency communications frequency will solve inter-organizational disaster communications problems. In fact, the undisciplined use of such a frequency could quickly jam it with excessive traffic, rendering it useless.
EXAMPLE: Air Florida Crash, Potomac River, Washington, DC, January 13, 1982. A U.S. Park Police helicopter was the only means by which any of the plane crash victims could be rescued. Even though the aircraft had radio capability to communicate with ground rescue units, it was not able to do so. This was because the frequency was too jammed with emergency and non-emergency radio traffic (Grollmes, 1985:12).
Communication has to be organized on a series of networks in order to accommodate the volume of traffic and direct it in a manner consistent with the inter-organizational management structure. In addition, procedures are necessary to determine channels and priorities for information flow.
Frequency Sharing Agreements
One approach to the problem of inter-agency communications is the development of frequency sharing agreements and radio caches (FEMA, 1987:38,40; ICS, 1980). A frequency sharing agreement is a mutual pact allowing multiple organizations involved in joint emergency operations to share radio frequencies licensed under single organizations.
Technical advances in radio equipment have made frequency sharing easier. Synthesized and programmable radios, some of which are capable of using hundreds of different frequencies, are now widely available. Unfortunately, commercial public safety radios are still capable of transmitting and receiving on only one band.
To some extent, the difficulty of communications among organizations whose radios are on different bands can be overcome by the development of "radio caches." Each radio cache has a collection of multichannel portable radios each with the same frequencies, extra batteries, battery chargers, and, perhaps, portable repeaters. These caches are stored where they can be obtained and mobilized to provide linking communications nets in multi-agency emergency operations and disasters.
"Two-way" Use of Scanners
One method of communication among agencies on different bands involves the use of modem, programmable scanning receivers (receivers that scan a number of frequencies, pausing to listen on each frequency only when it is carrying radio traffic). Although these devices cannot transmit, they can receive on multiple radio bands. With this technique, one person transmits on his two-way radio. The message is received on the second person's scanner. The second person then transmits his response on his two-way radio, and it is received on the scanner of the first person (see Fig. 5-2).
This technique can even be used if one person is transmitting on one band (e.g., UHF) and the other person is transmitting on another (e.g., VHF-Low). Coordination frequencies can be determined for each band. Each agency sets up its radios so they can transmit on the coordination frequency in the band in which their radios operate. Each radio operator also has a multi-band scanning receiver set up to receive the coordination frequencies on each band. For interorganizational contact, one transmits on the coordination frequency on one band, and can hear the response on any of the coordination frequencies in any of the other bands. Various other communications nets (e.g., command nets, ground-to-air nets, hospital-to-scene nets, tactical nets) can also use shared frequencies with this method to effect inter-agency communication for various purposes.
This type of communication does have its limitations. It should be used only for emergency traffic and preceded by mutual communications agreements among the organizations using it. There also may be difficulty when a person's scanner is paused on another frequency when someone is trying to contact him. Nevertheless, "two-way" use of scanners is one inexpensive means to carry out critical emergency communications among agencies whose radios do not operate on the same band.
Figure 5-2. Using scanners for "two-way" inter-agency
Specified frequencies can also be used to assure notification of various emergency or disaster-relevant agencies. In this case, each organization's dispatcher or radio operator has a tone-activated receiver (similar to a pager, or tone-activated weather frequency monitor). The area's communications center (or other prearranged organization) has a transmitter capable of emitting the tone alert, which activates the receivers. Different groups of organizations (e.g., all local fire departments, all local law enforcement agencies, all local hospitals), or all organizations having the receivers can be "toned," depending on the in-tended audience for the notification alert, update, or cancellation. One advantage of tone-activated receivers is that they are only activated when critical transmission of information is needed. They are, therefore, less likely to cause constant noise, resulting in people turning the volume down or off.
In Southern California, fire agencies have designated a prearranged "calling-frequency." This frequency is used solely for initial radio contact and instructions. Subsequent to initial contact, other frequencies are assigned to incoming responders, depending on their function, assigned task, and operations area (ICS, 1980).
There are advantages to this technique that are applicable to inter-organizational disaster communications. One of the values of a prearranged regional or state-wide "calling" frequency is that it can even facilitate the initiation of coordination with unexpected or unrequested responders. Not only does a "calling" frequency allow resources to report their presence to those coordinating incident operations, but it can also be used to obtain essential initial information, such as:
One of the difficulties that has been experienced in a number of disasters is the initiation of communication between the incident site and responding helicopters. Large, bright cloth ground-to-air signal panels can be used for this purpose. Laid out on the ground at the disaster site, they are lettered with a message indicating the air-to-ground "caning" frequency, on which the aircraft can initiate contact with incident operations.
Appropriate employment of regional or state-wide calling frequencies re-quires the establishment of procedures for their use and pre-signed agreements prior to approval for operation on them. Also required is the availability of directories of the various calling frequencies.
The availability of sophisticated satellite capability can help alleviate communications problems, especially over wide geographic areas, in remote settings, or from the site to distant state or federal disaster assistance points (Kilijanek, 1981:67; Vines, 1986:10).
EXAMPLE: Tornado, Wichita Falls, Texas, April 10, 1979. At the request of local officials, the State Division of Disaster Emergency Services contacted the Air Force for help with communications. Two communications jeeps were flown in which allowed a satellite communications link to be established between Wichita Falls and the state capital and simplified the state's ability to respond to local requests (Adams, 1981b:31).
This type of arrangement can be valuable in earthquakes too, since telephone transmission lines and microwave dish alignment are vulnerable to seismic forces (Seismic Safety Comm, 1979:7). Very small and lightweight portable satellite two-way radios make this type of communication an attractive tool (Cowley, 1985:223).
Common Mapping Systems
Multi-agency sharing of information about the present and predicted extent and location of disaster damage, secondary threats, vulnerable populations and structures, activities, transportation routes, and response activities generates the need for standardized maps and mapping grid systems. Yet, in some disasters as many as five or six different map types and map scales have been used by different agencies. This dissimilarity has caused considerable difficulty in communicating essential, geographically related information. The provision of standardized maps and familiarity with a standardized way (coordinate system) of describing locations on the maps are essential components to disaster communication.
Computers for Communication
Computers are not only useful for storing and analyzing disaster information, but also for sharing it. The graphic capabilities of modem personal computers have adapted themselves well to handling and transferring map data, the usefulness of which has already been described. The following are but a few examples of the uses of computers in disaster communications (Wohlwerth, 1987; Carroll, 1983; Carroll, 1985; Wallace, 1985; FEMA, 1987:27):
The communications equipment and procedures used by most emergency agencies are established primarily to deal with information flow within the organization. Disasters, on the other hand, pose heavy demands for inter-agency communication. To some extent, this can be facilitated by the availability of inter-agency radio networks, but some of the most difficult problems are "people" rather than "equipment" issues. The natural hesitancy to depend on and communicate with other organizations can be diminished in several ways. The critical information requirements of the various organizations involved in the disaster response need to be mutually understood, and the responsibility for gathering and disseminating it needs to be made clear.
Dynes RR, Quarantelli EL: Organizational communications and decision making in crises, Disaster Research Center Report Series No 17, 1977. Available from: Disaster Research Center, Newark, Del 19716.
Dynes, RR: Interorganizational relations in communities under stress. In: Quarantelli EL, Disasters: theory and research, 1978. Available from: Sage Publications, Ltd, 275 South Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, Calif 90212.
Federal Communications Commission: Report on Future Public Safety Telecommunications Requirements, PR Docket No. 84-232: Phase 2, Private Radio Bureau, FCC, Washington, DC, 1985. Available from: International Transcription Services, 2100 M St, NW, Washington, DC 20036.
Joint Committee on Fire, Police, Emergency, and Disaster Services: California's Emergency Communications Crisis, California State Senate and Assembly, Sacramento, 1983. Obtained from the office of Senator William Campbell, California State Senate, Sacramento, Calif 95814.
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