For those who commute into New York City on a regular basis, thoughts of September 11, 2001 are never far away. The increased ever-present police presence at mass-transit facilities together with signs and announcements about "staying alert" serve as a constant reminder. Lest we forget, new plots are sometimes unearthed and made public. On September 11 of this year, for example, one group was allegedly planning to blow up a variety of NYC buildings. Because of the constant threat of terrorism, emergency response and disaster management have become much better armed and coordinated. These improved solutions have even proven their merit during natural disasters.

This past August, for example, Verizon Wireless was able to test its communications solutions as wildfires raged in Los Angeles County. To stay connected, both firefighters in the field and evacuees at shelters used the Verizon Wireless network. The firm donated more than 160 cell phones and almost 100 mobile-broadband cards during the wildfires. It also added capacity to area cell sites as mandatory evacuations of residential and commercial neighborhoods generated spikes in call volume.

The recent California wildfires also inspired the Mundus Group, Inc. to form the AirStar Search & Rescue unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) 4 Life. With vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, the UAV 4 Life can fly out with fire and rescue departments and provide accurate visual details and thermal data of fires in buildings or forest areas. By gathering and communicating such data to rescue agencies, it can help to assess where the greatest dangers are in the immediate area as well as what occupies any adjacent buildings. It also can enable search and rescue operations where smoke or fog ground piloted planes and eliminate the possibility of ground searches.

These solutions are only two examples of the multitude that exist. If some small consolation can be gained in the face of another terroristbased disaster, it is that better communications are available. As a result, such a disaster should be better managed and more lives saved. The technology will not be as effective, however, if the proper action is not taken by individuals. Now more than ever, families should have an emergency plan. After a recent nationwide survey, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) revealed that more than 90 percent of children said they would know exactly what to do if there was an emergency like a fire. Yet only 47 percent chose the safest option: to get out of the building immediately. Those who live or work in or around major cities should have individual plans as well so that they have places to stay, alternate routes home, and more if disaster strikes. The signs and audio announcements at mass-transit centers remind people to be constantly vigilant. Yet preparation also is critical.