Lawmaker: Improve emergency systems

Improving emergency communications should be a top priority for the next administration, the chairman of a House subcommittee that deals with homeland security legislation said today.

In a speech, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) emphasized the importance of improving emergency response communications and interoperability, much of which depends on information technology systems. Cuellar chairs the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response Subcommittee.

Cuellar also said the next homeland security secretary should appoint an assistant secretary to manage the Homeland Security Department's Office of Emergency Communications.

“We should elevate the importance of the emergency communications of DHS,” he said. “The Office of Emergency Communications is buried in DHS.”

Cuellar said his subcommittee has been working with that DHS office to complete a national emergency communications plan, which he said was due later this month.

That DHS office incorporates the department's Integrated Wireless Network, the Interoperable Communications Technical Assistance Program and portions of the department’s program to improve emergency communications interoperability.

Cuellar also said he believed the next administration should leave the Federal Emergency Management Agency in DHS because it serves an important role in coordinating response to disasters and working with state, local and private sector officials.

Some critics have argued that FEMA should be separated from the department.

Cuellar made his recommendations before homeland security experts and officials at a conference on the future of homeland security sponsored by the Homeland Defense Journal and Book Hill Partners, a consulting firm.

Cuellar’s recommended that the next administration “resist the urge to eliminate or immediately reorganize the department in the first 100 days.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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