April 11, 2011 - 11:45 am
By Louis Sigalos | Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau - Southwest Region

Hurricane Katrina changed so much for so many.  For those who lived in the path of the storm, the change was devastating and profound.  Their lives were forever changed.  For the Federal Communications Commission the change was not nearly as dramatic, but from these events we were changed as well.
Among the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was an obliterated communications infrastructure.  Following the storm, the White House called upon every federal agency to participate in the relief effort.  So, there we were, the FCC on the ground in Louisiana.  What could we do?  How could we help?
Many times out of adversity, ingenuity reveals itself and, in this case, there was an immediate need to know which licensees, especially fire departments, police, hospitals, and broadcasters had communications capabilities. Well, at the FCC we are uniquely qualified to do that and we call the equipment and software that provides us with that capability “Roll Call.”  It’s a package of radio spectrum analyzers, scanners, antennas, and computers that can sweep the spectrum and catalog activity in specific frequencies that we license.  Simply put, we scan the airwaves, take the gathered data and cross reference it against our licensing database.  The result is a report that shows who is broadcasting/transmitting and who is not within a specific geographic region.  This is incredibly valuable information when trying to assess the impact of a hurricane on the communications infrastructure.
After all, what reason would there to be for a hospital not to communicate with their emergency medical technicians in the field?  Or, for the 911 answering centers not to provide dispatch communiqués to police and fire departments?  Basically, the only reason is that they aren’t up and working.  And if they don’t have communications capability how then do they communicate their need for assistance or the public’s need for assistance?  Well, it’s pretty difficult to say the least.  That’s where the FCC and the Roll Call program fill the void.