U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer joined Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV) along with Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to call for the passage of legislation to provide America’s first responders with a nationwide interoperable communications network before the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Senator Boxer said, “In a life-threatening emergency, first responders need to be able to communicate with one another seamlessly—obtaining and sharing information in real time. This critical measure to ensure public safety was recommended by the 9/11 Commission and is supported by law enforcement agencies and state and local governments nationwide.”
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Chairman Rockefeller said, “It’s embarrassing that any teenager with a smartphone has more communications capability than our firefighters, police officers and EMTs. It’s time we finally fulfill one of the last major recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and give our first responders the tools they need to do their jobs.”
The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act will set aside additional airwaves that will provide the backbone for a nationwide network, allowing first responders to communicate seamlessly during a time of crisis. With the network’s broadband capabilities, firefighters will be able to download detailed floor plans before rushing into burning buildings and EMTs will be able to send pictures from an accident scene to doctors in the emergency room. This kind of situational awareness will protect first responders and save lives.
In California, the need for improved first responder communications capability became clearer during the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, the largest fire in the state’s history. The fast-moving blaze jumped across jurisdictional boundaries, meaning multiple agencies were tasked with responding.
According to a report by the U.S. Forest Service, federal and state agencies used radio systems that were incompatible with those used by local fire departments and law enforcement agencies, which hindered evacuation and firefighting efforts. In some cases, first responders actually relied on human “runners” to transmit information.
This bill is supported by the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the California Public Safety Radio Association, the Northern California Chapter of APCO and the California State Sheriffs Association, San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, San Jose Police Chief Christopher Moore and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Specifically, the bill would:
Allocate a swath of spectrum, called the “D-Block,” to first responders for the purpose of creating a public safety communications network;
Give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum. The funds raised by these incentive auctions will be billions beyond what is needed to pay for building the public safety network. Excess funds will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit.