FEMA seeks wireless fix

In another case of homeland security housekeeping, the Office of Management and Budget will soon mandate a reallocation of wireless efforts to one e-government initiative, according to Ronald Miller, chief information officer of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA will organize the government's communications capabilities under Project SafeCom to ensure that emergency workers are outfitted with interoperable equipment.

The small agency recently took over the project from the Treasury Department because of its emphasis on emergency preparedness and first responders, Miller said at an Industry Advisory Council breakfast June 20.

"Our communications system in this country is a total, dismal failure," said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).

FEMA officials plan to use bridging technologies to improve the situation in the near future as the agency moves toward creating a national standard, Miller said. "Technology is not the problem," he said. "Our job is to bring this community together to find a coordinated solution."

Miller, Weldon and local officials recounted the breakdown in communications after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. First responders needed up-to-date information to direct rescues. But with telephone service down in some areas, an overwhelming volume of calls clogging the wireless phone system and fire departments transmitting radio messages on different frequencies, rescuers struggled to communicate.

In the end, some were reduced to sending runners with handwritten notes.

In Miller's mind, a reserved radio spectrum for safety is the answer to the communications problem, he said.

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