FEMA CIO makes the case for ham radios, paper maps


Tools like ham radios that seem outdated still need to be part of disaster response plans, said Adrian Gardner, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's chief information officer.

Even though they've been surpassed technologically, old-fashioned tools that have proven their reliability can add to resilience during disasters, Gardner said. He spoke May 14 during the FOSE conference in Washington, D.C.

If cellular networks fail during a disaster, tools like amateur radio could be the best available option for some survivors to communicate.

"We really have to think about those things that have worked for hundreds of years, that have been resilient sources of communications," he said.

Gardner joined FEMA after working for a federal agency that deals with some of the world's most advanced technology: He was the CIO for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

His call for FEMA to take technologies seen as passé seriously extends beyond just communications. For instance, paper maps could be crucial for personnel on the scene of a disaster – even if their devices and geographic information systems are functioning properly.

A single screen may not be conducive to makeshift meetings where disaster relief workers gather to make decisions based on information from maps.

Imagine, he said, "you're trying to get a crowd of people to actually see something, maybe on an iPad, or potentially on just a desktop."

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