Shortly after Hurricane Katrina blew itself out and the affected areas began the long process of recovery, Cisco Systems and IBM quietly entered into a partnership designed to quickly deliver integrated infrastructure, networking, and communications to crisis spots around the world. On Tuesday, the companies revealed the fruits of that partnership, which include a rapid-deployment communications kit, a device for integrating responder communication across multiple radio frequencies, and a small fleet of emergency response vehicles with enough gear to quickly turn a regular field tent into a temporary command center.
While most of the technology that's part of IBM's new Crisis Management Services for Crisis Response service already has been available to some first responders, IBM and Cisco say the integration and rapid implementation of the infrastructure and networking equipment, plus the availability of IBM and Cisco personnel to run the equipment, are crucial to first responders and affected businesses who've increasingly come to rely on networks and wireless communications.
"We were concerned after Katrina about how we accelerate recovery," says Bob Browning, Cisco's senior manager of tactical operations, adding that first responders and local businesses that lose their networks in a disaster need equipment right away, even as they assess damage to their existing infrastructure.
The tactical communications kit offered by both companies through IBM's Crisis Management Services includes a Cisco 2811 Integrated Services Router, 802.11 wireless access card, and 16-port EtherSwitch module for integrating switching and routing in the same platform. Earlier versions of the kit, which were larger and heavier, already have been used to help establish communications on site during the tsunami that hit Indonesia in December 2004, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2005 Pakistan earthquake.
Cisco and IBM also have put together a "fog-cutter" device for integrating responder communication by handling multiple radios operating across multiple frequencies. The fog cutter also can merge radio-frequency signals into a VoIP stream that can be accessed by landline and mobile phones.
The smaller network emergency response vehicle, or Nerv I, delivers satellite or WiMax wireless communications atop a Chevy Suburban chassis, although Cisco and IBM have the ability to outfit similar sport-utility vehicles with similar technology. Responders also can run an Ethernet cable and switch from the vehicle to a tent or school cafeteria to set up of a base of operations. Nerv I was tested during Hurricane Katrina, when it was used to maintain connectivity with a nuclear power plant in Louisiana. A larger version, the Nerv III, is built into a six-wheel Wolf Coach mobile command center.
Cisco and IBM deliver their services to emergency responders after many of them have spent the years since Sept. 11, 2001, investing in equipment. The new crisis response service could significantly complement those investments, particularly those that aren't used every day or could reside in the path of a disaster, says Charlie Largay, IBM Crisis Management Services global delivery executive.
The devastation wreaked by terrorist attacks, hurricanes, and other forces of nature in recent years should serve as a forewarning for any local government and the businesses operating therein to be ready in case of an emergency. The service introduced today represents a response to what both companies have witnessed firsthand. "We can't allow something like Katrina to happen again," Browning says, "not when we have the ability to help."