April 19, 2011

Nationwide Network For
First Responders Urged


RAYMOND W. KELLY: Need ‘seamless nationwide system.’   KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: ‘Let’s move into 21st century.’  

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly joined U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last week in urging Congress to create a nationwide wireless broadband network for communications by emergency responders.

The pair called on lawmakers to pass the legislation before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, where problems that left police and fire radios unable to communicate with each other have been blamed for costing the lives of some of the 421 first-responders who died.

Teens More Advanced Than P.D.

Mr. Kelly said the NYPD’s primary communications system, made up of two-way voice radios, is extremely limited. “The fact is a 16-year-old with a smartphone has more-advanced communication capability than a police officer with one of these radios,” he said.

He said that the system can’t be used to exchange electronic data such as photos and video clips. “And although we have made progress on local radio interoperability,” he continued, “the lack of a common radio spectrum prevents us from establishing a truly seamless nationwide system for all first-responders.”

“If we learned one lesson from the attack on the World Trade Center, it is that effective communication can save lives,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “A nationwide wireless broadband channel will allow emergency services to communicate and share information. To those who wish to save those broadband frequencies for commercial use, we say that nothing is more important to commercial success than the safety of consumers.”

FDNY, UFOA Supportive

“The FDNY supports this legislation that would enhance communications and improve interoperability for first-responders,” said spokesman Frank Dwyer.

“I’m not familiar with all the technology they’re talking about, but the goals that are stated are laudable,” said Alexander Hagan, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. “The ideal is we would be able to talk to one another and, in fact, we need to be able to talk to one another. The perfect example is the World Trade Center, when Firefighters in the building did not have the information that the top of the tower was leaning and it looked like it was going to fall.”

The Uniformed Firefighters Association declined to comment.

‘Need Effective Communication’

“New York City remains the No. 1 target for terrorists around the world who want to harm Americans,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “Nearly ten years after 9/11, it’s time to bring our first-responder technology into the 21st century. If we’re going to keep New Yorkers safe, we must ensure that local, state and Federal first-responders can effectively communicate with each other in real time during a national crisis.”

The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act would allocate 10 megahertz of spectrum, known as the “D Block,” to public safety. The resulting network would allow the NYPD and other local police departments to share data with the Federal government. It would also allow comparison of fingerprints with local, state and Federal databases. Officers on patrol could receive information from the department’s Real Time Crime Center, such as a digital snapshot of a suspect, his address and criminal record. Officers could use wireless technology to remotely control bomb-disposal robots and similar devices.

Alternative Proposal

Opponents of the proposal prefer to auction off the broadband to private owners who would make the channels available to public-safety agencies in an emergency. Ms. Gillibrand said that under her proposal some channels would be auctioned off to provide funds to set up the public-safety network.

The inability of police and firefighters to talk to each other was cited in a report by the 9/11 Commission, which has urged the government to set aside broadband channels for public-safety purposes.

Christopher Gilbride, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, said the city now has a network for interoperable radio communications that includes the Fire Department, the Police Department, his department and other agencies.

In addition, he said, the city has developed an 800-megahertz radio system that connects all city commissioners, the Mayor and other top city officials. “If everything else goes down, that’s a dedicated line that the leadership can talk on,” he said in an interview.

City radios are not connected with those in neighboring jurisdictions such as Long Island and Westchester County, a situation passage of the bill would remedy.