As chaos engulfed New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck, emergency responders traded urgent information in a way that was hardly a model of 21st-century high technology. With floodwaters surging, they scurried on foot to ferry messages among city police, state troopers and the National Guard. It’s not that the agencies’ radio systems didn’t work. They just didn’t work with each other, reports USA Today.
The breakdown in New Orleans was the latest proof of a troubling quandary: Many of the USA’s 50,000 public-safety agencies still can’t talk to each other in a crisis. The problem has plagued emergency responders in every big disaster in recent memory – from the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11 to Katrina. The main culprit? Incompatible radio equipment. There is no simple fix, and the expensive solution may be nearly 20 years away.