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Red Cross looks to IT for post-Katrina recovery

Satellite communications equipment in place before hurricane hit

Once Hurricane Katrina has taken a final swipe at Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the American Red Cross will begin quickly deploying satellite communications and other IT systems in affected areas to help storm victims begin piecing their lives back together.

As the storm approached the southern US late last week, the Washington-based Red Cross began sending equipment and personnel to areas outside the storm's projected path so help could be brought in quickly after the winds and flooding subside. Katrina made landfall in Louisiana with sustained winds of 145mph, but veered just enough to the east to spare New Orleans a direct blow. Even so, flooding, power outages and heavy damage to structures were reported throughout the region.

Tomorrow the Red Cross expects to begin deploying a host of necessary systems, including satellite telephones, portable satellite dishes, specially equipped communications trucks, high- and low-band radio systems and generator-powered wireless computer networks, said Jason Wiltrout, a Red Cross network engineer.

Nine specially designed Ford Excursion sport utility trucks, known as ECRVs(emergency communications response vehicles), carry various radio systems that allow communications on a wide range of frequencies across disaster areas, Wiltrout said. The vehicles have generator-equipped satellite dishes that can help establish communications in the absence of working phone lines and mobile phone towers.

Each of the ECRVs also has 10 voice over IP satellite phones and at least 10 wireless laptops, as well as a selection of portable, tripod-mounted satellite dishes used for communications after the storm's winds have eased.

Also awaiting deployment are IP-based fax machines and mobile servers built into shipping crate-like containers, Wiltrout said. Each two-crate server system includes a server, a Cisco router, a Cisco switch, a keyboard and a monitor and will allow the agency to keep records on disaster victims who receive aid from Red Cross workers.

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