The illustration on a recent cover of The Economist, depicting a long, desolate road flanked by skewed telephone poles and sagging cables under a funereal sky, proved prescient. Although the cover story detailed how wireless networks have undercut the traditional telephone system—slowly but surely pushing it toward obsolescence—the illustration itself looked to be an artist’s rendition of a much more recent onslaught: Hurricane Katrina.
Current technology, with its reliance on satellites that safely orbit above the pole-snapping winds of terrestrial weather systems, proved its worth in the past weeks as hurricanes smashed into the Gulf Coast. But it wasn’t just the technology that rose to the challenge, as major businesses within the industry did what they could to pitch in.
Xantic and France Telecom partnered with Thrane & Thrane, a leading provider of global mobile satellite and radio communication solutions, to help the people of the Gulf Coast communicate with their loved ones all over the world by setting up mobile “telephone booths,” each equipped with 20 satellite phones. From the Kmart parking lot in Waveland, Miss., to an elementary school in Perlington, Miss., the generous donation of simple communication capabilities helped FEMA and other relief organizations to stay connected.
In another state, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, which ensures citizens have access to any information they need to obtain safe and affordable housing, received a boost from Applied Voice & Speech Technologies (AVST). AVST donated a 96-port CallXpress Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system, which provides the necessary address, telephone numbers and directions for citizens to locate housing assistance centers anywhere in Louisiana. “Without the system, the task of getting necessary housing information out to all the people that need it would be almost impossible,” said an AVST representative. Displaced residents can access the system 24 hours a day.
In addition, two of AVST’s dealer partners, VoiceXpress of Baton Rouge and Greenwich Technology Partners of New York City, are providing the necessary scripting, voice recordings, installation and maintenance at no charge. While companies jumped in to help re-establish communication networks, others helped to expedite the reconstruction efforts that loom in the coming months. For instance, to facilitate the building inspections that will pave the way for residents to return, the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits is using Accela Automation, a Web-based enterprise application, to automate permitting, inspections, plan review, code enforcement and other critical building functions.
“Our employees have developed strong relationships with New Orleans staff over the last few years and we are committed to helping them and the citizens they serve at this time,” says Robert. P. Lee, Accela’s president and CEO. “I feel very fortunate that our company is in a position where we can quickly mobilize resources and take immediate steps to help New Orleans and the community it serves.”
While many of us quietly grumble these days about how technology allows anyone and everyone to reach us, whether at the beach or on the couch, the recent natural disasters remind us that mobile technology now plays a vital—and not simply convenient—role in keeping us connected to each other.