Tech key to terror response
- By Greg Langlois
- Oct 08, 2001
Federal, state and local officials made clear at a congressional hearing
Oct. 5 that communications systems—which have proven to be flawed during
past disasters—would be key to providing an effective response to a chemical
or biological terrorist attack.
The hearing, held by the House Government Reform Committee's Government
Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee,
focused on how well-prepared federal, state and local governments are to
handle such attacks.
Several witnesses said local emergency response organizations are best
equipped to coordinate response efforts because they are familiar with their
communities and can provide relief most rapidly. However, improved communication
technology is needed, said Donald Lynch, director of emergency management
for Shawnee, Okla., and Pottawatomie County, Okla.
"When examining response to disasters, emergencies and terrorism events,
one common thread is the failure of communication systems," Lynch said.
"If responders are to be able to respond efficiently, effectively and safely,
they must be able to communicate with each other. Incompatible frequency
assignments, outdated and inoperable equipment and overloaded circuits are
often cited as issues relating to communication failure."
Following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
in Oklahoma City, telephone networks were overloaded, he said, and even
after portable cellular sites were established, nonemergency use tied up
communications. Two-way radio technologies were used, but various agencies
used different frequencies, he said.
Similar problems occurred in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon, he said.
Lynch recommended that the Federal Communications Commission maintain
the current radio spectrum allocation level for public safety and military
use and examine interoperability in future spectrum assignments to federal,
state and local governments. He also said that federal grant programs for
communications systems, including computer systems, should have interoperability
requirements with other jurisdictions.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward Norris, advocating an increased
role for local law enforcement agencies in investigating and preventing
terrorist acts, said the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act,
passed in 1994, must be fully implemented and enforced. That law requires
telephone companies to ensure that their systems and networks can accommodate
federal, state and local wiretaps, despite changing telephone technology,
"Right now we can't intercept certain digital phone technologies, and
that is keeping all of us dangerously in the dark," Norris said.