First responders took a baby step forward today when Senate bill 911 passed the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. The Strengthening Public-Safety and Enhancing Communications Through Reform, Utilization and Modernization (SPECTRUM) Act will provide America’s first responders with a nationwide interoperable communications network.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a proponent of the bill, applauded the action.
“It’s simply wrong that anyone with a smartphone now has greater communications capability than our first responders and emergency personnel,” she said.” “This measure will ensure that in a life-threatening emergency, firefighters, police officers and EMTs can communicate with one another seamlessly and in real time.”
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The SPECTRUM 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 clear 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 State Sheriffs Association, the California Public Safety Radio Association and the Northern California Chapter of APCO along with 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 and 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.