Call goes out for communications
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Oct 03, 2001
Local, state and federal government officialswho have been longtime
advocates of better wireless interoperability among public safety agencies
are calling for increased efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist
"Make it become the nationwide subject matter it deserves to be," Oklahoma
City Councilwoman Ann Simank told attendees of the National Interoperability
Forum in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2. Simank recounted the communication problems
faced by public safety agencies after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building.
The two-day forum, jointly hosted by the Public Safety Wireless Network
Program (www.pswn.gov) and the National Institute
of Justice (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij), was billed
as an opportunity for public safety professionals and policy-makers to explore
how best to improve wireless communications among firefighters, emergency
medical personnel and law enforcement authorities across jurisdictions and
all government levels.
Simank said 26,000 people responded to handle the Oklahoma City bombing,
"and they all needed so desperately to be able to communicate." Public safety
agencies used two radio channels to communicate with each other regarding
the incident, and one channel was left open for other incidents. But "no
one could talk to each other," she said.
She also said wireless phones were jammed, similar to what callers in
New York City and elsewhere experienced following the terrorist attacks.
Local telecommunications providers at the time supplied more than 1,000
wireless phones with priority lines to fire, police, EMS, FBI and other
emergency personnel. However, she said, many agencies got busy signals and
instead used people to shuttle messages back and forth.
A triage center was set up with doctors, nurses and $600,000 of medical
equipment, but it was never used because no one knew it was there, she said.
Harlin McEwen, a former Ithaca, N.Y., police chief and member of the
International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the level of interoperability
has steadily declined over the years. However, he noted that recent efforts
are working to change that trend, including such technological advances
as digital communications systems that can carry voice, video and data.
He said funding is cited by most public safety agencies and governments
as a hindrance to interoperability. Other key challenges include fostering
coordination and partnerships, developing technology standards, ensuring
communications security, and improving spectrum efficiency and flexibility.
He said he's heard that it would take about $18.3 billion to build an
infrastructure to replace the current one, but he said he couldn't substantiate
the figure's accuracy.