Opening Statement of Assistant Secretary Rohde at the All Hazards Roundtable

July 17, 2000

Opening Statement
All Hazards Roundtable
Assistant Secretary Gregory L. Rohde
July 17, 2000

Good morning. I'm pleased to welcome everyone today to the start of what I expect to be a fascinating process of bringing the best of technology to the highest of purpose -- protecting the public in dangerous situations by providing emergency warnings. The NTIA has long been interested in the deployment of new technologies, and this topic is one of the most urgent we can examine.

I'd also like to welcome my colleague, Dr. James Baker, the administrator of NOAA. I know you have a busy schedule, Dr. Baker, and I'm pleased you have taken the time to be with us today.

When I was growing up in North Dakota, we were told early on to watch the sky for signs of tornadoes in summer and heed the early warnings of violent winter storms that would sweep the prairies with furry. We kept the basement supplied with a radio, batteries and food and packed winter survival kits for our cars, always ready for the possibility that a storm could come up at any time. A lot has changed since the days when we all piled into the station wagon. There are new technologies that provide for more opportunities to provide warnings to the public. We can expand our network beyond hurricanes and storms to include chemical spills, floods, or even the worst disasters that hit in the Washington area -- the dreaded snowstorm.

Then, as now, we already have some excellent means of warning people in danger. NOAA Weather Radio, the National Weather Service and commercial broadcasters have shown time and again their effectiveness in providing needed information to the public.

We're here today to start a discussion on how we can build on what we have to make it better -- to look at how we can build on our excellent foundation by looking at new situations and new technologies. Where do wireless services, like paging and cell phones fit in? What can they bring to bear? How can the Internet be put to use, on the wireline side, or for wireless Internet connections? What will it take to deploy reverse 911? Today the questions are: What are the gaps? How can they be filled? How can these other technologies fill the needs seen by emergency workers, or the disabled?

The beauty of the flexibility of today's technology is that more people will have more chances to be given a warning. A broadcast warning might not be helpful when a hurricane hits in the middle of the night, when few are watching or listening. A landline call back service might be more effective. On the other hand, when a farmer is plowing his fields a warning sent through a pager or cell phone might be more effective. Residents of a community might like to know if their utility service is unexpectedly cut off. A phone call or page could help reduce the anxiety of waking up to a cold house in the dead of winter.

I expect today's roundtable to be informative and educational. But it's just a start of a more comprehensive process that will aim to stimulate discussion between the private sector and the government over use of other technologies to protect the public. We hope that industry will continue to participate in an ongoing series of discussions over the coming months.

I'd like to introduce the head of an agency which, even without a recent hit movie, is one of the most recognizable in the world. Before turning to D. Jim Baker, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, let me emphasize that the entire process which brought us here today has been the work of many people from many different agencies, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with our colleagues from NOAA.