Emergency responder network unlikely by 10th anniversary of 9/11

By Kase Wickman
Sunday, August 7, 2011 20:46 EDT
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After the national tragedy of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., lawmakers vowed that through broadband reform, a first-responders priority network would be established.

Reform being, of course, no small task, instant gratification was neither expected nor required. September 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, was set as an informal deadline for the network to be in place and operational.

The decade anniversary will likely come and go without an emergency first responders network, however.

At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in late July, lawmakers and experts both expressed their disappointment at the lack of progress in the first responder’s network.

“Right now, my son and daughter have more capability than my firefighters do while responding to emergencies every day,” Michael Varney, a coordinator for Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection said in his testimony.

The panel, called 10 Years After 9/11: Improving Emergency Communications, discussed the challenges that first responders face while vying for communication and compatibility with other agencies across the country.

“As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, how first responders communicate with one another and how Americans receive emergency information remain challenges,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said.

The government’s broadband efforts have been roiled by controversy concerning stimulus money, dealings with communications giants reluctant to re-appropriate segments of spectrum and the FCC’s dire warnings of an upcoming “spectrum crunch” due to the saturation of smartphones and over WiFi consuming devices.

At the center of the debate is the chunk of spectrum known as the D-Block, a highly effective piece that some would have reserved for a first responders network, but others would rather the government auction to communications companies for profit.

Dick Mirgon, a recent past president of the Association of Public Safety Communication officials, told Politico that advocates for the network would voice their loud disapproval of the delay to Congress in coming weeks.

“We’re not going away. If it doesn’t get done by Sept. 11, then we will continue to pursue this effort as vigorously as we have,” Mirgon said.

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
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