- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

Washington business owner started a 24-hour television information network that began broadcasting soon after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

She is scheduled to share the story with a subgroup of the president’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee after having briefed numerous government and industry groups interested in duplicating the network before hurricane season starts June 1.

The Katrina Information Network started broadcasting Sept. 15, two weeks after the storm made landfall. After Hurricane Rita hit Sept. 24, the channel became the Emergency Response and Information Network.

“From the beginning, like everybody else, we just wanted to do something,” Constance Chatfield-Taylor said of her eight-member staff.

Ms. Chatfield-Taylor is the founder and president of Flying Colors Broadcasts Inc., a video production and distribution company.

The company contacted a group of business partners to establish the network, which helped displaced residents find family members, friends and pets, and take steps to restart their lives.

For two months, the channel carried material from federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided advice about mold removal; the Small Business Administration, which discussed loan acquisition; and the U.S. Postal Service, which gave tips about change of address, even from shelter to shelter. A Federal Emergency Management Agency specialist led a daily question-and-answer session.

Videos on hurricane recovery were produced in September and October. Many messages were broadcast in English and Spanish.

The network came together in eight days with a volunteer work force and no funding.

“It seems to me the efforts of [the network] met several agencies’ — at the federal, state and local levels — needs in an emergent situation,” said Dan Hurley, director for critical infrastructure protection in Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). “They were delivering messages that were needed.”

Mr. Hurley’s agency allocates spectrum frequency to the federal government. The Federal Communications Commission has the same responsibility for the private sector and state and local governments. The two agencies often collaborate.

Ms. Chatfield-Taylor is expected to brief the group within the next 60 days, said Bill Belote, chief of the emergency planning and public safety division in NTIA’s office of spectrum management.

The Department of Homeland Security is trying to build a database of communications resources for use during an emergency, he said.

The network and other projects are the types of efforts that would comprise the database.

Ms. Chatfield-Taylor put together an “eclectic group with the capabilities, knowledge and equipment needed to get a message out that was not duplicated, and at the moment, doesn’t exist,” Mr. Hurley said.

Echostar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network installed satellite dishes at 82 Katrina shelters to help get information to its thousands of displaced customers and nonsubscribers, said Francie Bauer, spokeswoman for the Englewood, Colo., company.

As soon as people in the shelters and their homes found the Dish channel carrying the network, the calls started. Viewers wanted the information crawl and slides to go more slowly so they could record the phone numbers, Ms. Chatfield-Taylor said.

“We knew people were watching,” she said.

In January, Ms. Chatfield-Taylor briefed NTIA’s economic security working group, which includes public- and private-sector representatives. She met again with industry officials last month.

Although the meetings have gone well, Mr. Hurley said, action was more likely in the private sector than from the government.

Ms. Chatfield-Taylor said she hopes to have either a nonprofit public information channel or a government response channel operating before June 1. “There’s nothing solid, but it’s developing really fast.”

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