Disaster communications

Two potential sources of emergency communications capacity for the Katrina impact area: ham radio, and the big media companies.

A reader asks two excellent questions:

1. In the communications crisis that has made the rest of the Katrina situation so much harder to deal with, no one has yet mentioned ham radio. Why not? Wouldn’t moving in some ham sets be an efficient way of restoring the capacity of people in the area to communicate with the outside world?

(I would add a different question: If in fact ham radio isn’t an important means of emergency communication, then why should we reserve all that scarce bandwidth for what’s no more than the hobby of a tiny minority?)

2. Why not just embed FEMA officials with the news media? CNN doesn’t seem to have any problem getting to the scenes of disasters and maintaining communication to the outside world. Glenn Reynolds suggested a couple of days ago that the media should bring in symbolic amounts of relief supplies. Why not have them provide non-symbolic amounts of emergency communications capacity instead? After all, they’re in the communications business.

Update Several readers wrote to point out that ham operators were responsible for coordinating at least some rooftop rescues, and the Salvation Army apparently uses amateur radio as its backbone emergency communications technology.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com