Bringing First Responder Communications Into the 21st Century

07/21/2011 11:44 am ET Updated Sep 20, 2011

New Yorkers know better than anyone the constant threat that our country faces. As we've seen time and again, New York continues to be the number one target for terrorists around the world who want to harm Americans.

That's why, as the Senator from New York, I am extremely concerned that we not forget the lessons of 9/11.

One important lesson we learned on that horrific day was how crucial it is that our first responders can communicate in real time between agencies in a time of emergency. We have the best firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and public safety professionals in the world, yet currently they communicate on different frequencies and with different systems -- creating barriers to providing a coordinated and efficient response during a crisis.

The 9/11 commission identified insufficient interoperability among communications systems used by first responders during the attacks and rescue efforts as a major problem that needed to be fixed.

Yet here we are nearly ten years later and Congress has failed to implement this recommendation.  
The fact is, a teenager with a smartphone can share more information more quickly than our emergency responders can. This is unacceptable. It's time to bring first responder communications into the 21st century.

Yesterday, I stood with Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who has been a dedicated leader in this effort, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and some our brave first responders to renew our call on Congress to pass the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act before the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.

This bipartisan legislation creates the framework for the deployment of a nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband network for public safety by allocating 10 megahertz of spectrum, known as the "D-block," for emergency communications.

This nationwide interoperable broadband network would finally enable our brave first responders to communicate across jurisdictions, share critical data such as video feeds and up-to-date information in real-time -- making complex operations easier and safer.

The "D-block" would arm our men and women on the ground with the technology needed to share and disseminate information quickly and seamlessly, including receiving background checks, fingerprints, photos, and videos instantly.

This bill would also generate the necessary revenue to pay for the development and deployment of this network through FCC auctions of the spectrum. So, not only does this bill not cost taxpayers a dime, but the CBO estimates it will actually reduce the deficit by $6.5 billion between 2012-2021. Which is why this bill has attracted support from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Just as we did with the 9/11 health bill for our heroes, Congress must come together, put public safety ahead of politics, and pass this bi-partisan legislation. And we should do it by the 10th anniversary of 9/11.