Originally published: September 12, 2011
Last updated: September 12, 2011 - 7:50pm
In the 10 years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, there have been countless advances in technology, but the one thing we haven't yet mastered is a standardized, interoperable public safety network that would let our first responders communicate with one another.
The inability of first responders to communicate that fateful day—the fire department not having contact with police, who couldn't talk to Port Authority officers and vice versa -- was a "critical failure," according to a recent 10-year report card put together by members of the 9/11 Commission. "Incompatible and inadequate communications led to needless loss of life," they said. It was no surprise, then, that one of the 9/11 Commission's 41 recommendations called on Congress to provide for the "expedited and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes." One of the first stories I wrote as a reporter for The National Journal's Technology Daily back in 2003 concerned the need for first responder national standards, but here we are in 2011 with lots of proposals but little action. What happened?
At the most basic level, political squabbles and disagreements over how best to fund and organize such an undertaking, as well as technical issues surrounding spectrum allocation, have delayed any serious action for a decade. No one would accuse stakeholders involved in the process of deliberately trying to delay a system that would assist our nation's first responders, but at this point, Congress has yet to agree on a plan of action.