Comms woes intensify Katrina impact

WASHINGTON: Relief efforts remained in disarray several days after Hurricane Katrina came ashore as government agencies and private groups faced severe communications problems due to regional utility disruptions.

WASHINGTON: Relief efforts remained in disarray several days after Hurricane Katrina came ashore as government agencies and private groups faced severe communications problems due to regional utility disruptions.

The American Red Cross dispatched members of its rapid response team to various locations in the region prior to Katrina's landfall, but efforts by public affairs officials were largely thwarted by the damage.

"It presents a challenge in this environment where there is no power or phone service," Red Cross media relations representative Sarah Marchetti said.

The US Defense Department was also attempting to provide reporters with access to officials who are directly involved in relief efforts. The US Northern Command (NORTHCOM) has been tasked by the Pentagon's leadership to provide support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including coordinating use of a Navy hospital ship and Army helicopters.

"The strategy is to move the communications downrange as fast and as much as possible," Defense Department PAO Maj. Paul Swiergosz said. Military officials on the ground will be better capable of providing reporters with details, he added.

Swiergosz, who works at the Pentagon, said he will stay in close contact with field commanders assigned to relief efforts. "NORTHCOM has its own public affairs conference call that I sit in on so that we can synchronize efforts," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency was in the early stages of assessing environmental and public health threats.

"We're trying to get as much information out there as we can," EPA public information officer Elizabeth Sweeney said.

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