The reply of 9/11 Commissioner, John Lehman on C-Span answering questions about the 9/11 Commission Report, when asked about the commissionâ€™s recommendation for an Emergency Management Signal Corps:
We uncovered a fairly significant range of command, control and communications problemsâ€¦. The military has struggled with this for a long time. Now today the normal order of military operations involves all services integrated working together. Radios that are designed to work at sea donâ€™t necessarily work in intense land environments, in cities, in buildings. The military learned long ago that you need a systems approach to radios and to connectivity. In cities like NY especially, that remains one of the most important, valuable targets of our enemy, we have to be able to assure the connectivity between the commanders, the civilian commanders on scene, the mayor and the civilian authorities the fire department, fire departments of adjacent areas of police departments and in totally different environments; tunnels, skyscrapers and in the port areas and so forth, Thereâ€™s no one radio you can buy to fix that. And so you need a systems approach like the military uses, every military unit that deploys to an operational area has a signal corps type unit with it that has the robust communications of different kinds that can keep the different units connected together and communicating, whether itâ€™s in a ship to shore, or an air to ground, or a ground to ground environment. And with the people trained on how to assure failsafe connectivity. That does not exist in NY or most other cities today. And with the assistance of the pentagon and the federal government it is a very high priority that this kind of connectivity be established to deal with threats in the future.
Okay, this was a recommendation that I liked. Big thumbs up from the Signaleer, but thatâ€™s a big surprise, right? Commo is the answer to almost any organizational problem. Sometimes itâ€™s not the means of comms thatâ€™s the issue but the media and sometimes itâ€™s the communicators themselves. Touching (but only for a moment) on the recommendations I made for the Intelligence Community, I believe that rearranging the communicators facilitates the communication. This is a part of that systems approach to communication that the military has been dealing with for a very long time though it usually gets buried by questions of how to communicate. Essentially, however, four people in one room can share ideas more effectively, and more quickly, than four people in four separate rooms.
I have some reservations about holding the militaryâ€™s systems approach too high though, especially the Armyâ€™s. We do have a variety of media for communications, but they arenâ€™t deployed well and in some cases not at all until the usual means fail.
Iâ€™m in Afghanistan. The terrain here is amazing; mountains everywhere. The radio communication system that the Army has deployed in depth to all units is a VHF radio system. VHF, Very High Frequency, radio waves will only be received if there are no large obstacles between antennas. This is referred to as LOS, Line of Sight. I did mention that there are lots of mountains here? We have another system that overcomes this problem, Tactical Satellite, TACSAT, radios. These arenâ€™t deployed in any great depth and they have problems of their own; there are only so many users a given satellite can support at one time and you canâ€™t use it well, if at all, on the move. We have another system. HF, High Frequency, radio uses lower frequency transmission than VHF (hence the names) the benefit of which is that while VHF waves will penetrate the ionosphere and continue out into space, HF will not. They bounce back to earth. A skilled operator can communicate around the world on less than 10 watts of powerâ€”itâ€™s been done on 2. And it can be done on the move. We have this system, but itâ€™s hardly deployed at all. And we donâ€™t have as many as we really need to take advantage of it. There are drawbacks, operators must be more skilled than with other systems, and there is some lag in the send in and receiving. The right radio, in fact, for Afghanistan, but there are only small numbers of them and they are largely in warehouses and not with units. This creates a learning curve problem, too for units that do get them.
And thatâ€™s what Mr. Lehman is referring toâ€”a set of systems that cover for the disadvantages of the others. If one system doesnâ€™t work, try another.
Hereâ€™s a goal for the Signal Corps he wishes to create, itâ€™s not one that we always achieve ourselves, but it is what we are suppose to strive for in our communications planning.
PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency. We should have no fewer than four means to transmit information. One that is relied upon, one that we go to if its busy or not working, one for cases where the situation isnâ€™t what was expressly anticipated and a final one that is the last ditch. In reality there are even more than this, because it can refer to modes of the same means; like calling your friendâ€™s cell phone number if the home phone isnâ€™t answered.
Itâ€™s an excellent recommendation. I just hope that theyâ€™ll strive to emulate the model and not necessarily the actual execution.