08/02/2013 04:56 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2013

A Communications Network Worthy of Our First Responders

Ahead of the National Scout Jamboree, last month I visited the Glen Jean Armory where the Joint Interagency Task Force was headquartered during this incredible 10-day event. I got to see first-hand how state and local first responders, members of the National Guard and representatives from federal agencies were using West Virginia's state public safety communications network to keep the Boy Scouts and volunteers safe during their time in West Virginia.

In the future, emergency response in our state and across the country will be enhanced by an advanced wireless communications system that will allow first responders from all agencies to communicate seamlessly across a shared network. This is also going to enhance the safety of Jamborees to come.

That system, called FirstNet, will be a state-of-the-art, high-speed wireless broadband network that will revolutionize first responder communications nationwide.

FirstNet is going to make sure we minimize any chance for communications failures during emergencies. Sadly, though, we have seen what happens when our first responders can't communicate, most notably on September 11, 2001.

In the years after 9/11, I wanted to make sure we honored our brave first responders who were injured or died as the result of failures in our communications capabilities. So I set out to establish a program that uses the cutting edge communications resources we have at our fingertips to give first responders the tools they need to communicate effectively during emergencies. And FirstNet will fulfill the last major remaining recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

Signed into law last year, FirstNet will become the first nationwide, high-speed network that enables police, firefighters, EMS workers and other state and federal first responders from across jurisdictions to communicate seamlessly when they're responding to natural disasters or other crises.

Last month, the Boston Police Commissioner testified before Congress about his department's response to the Boston Marathon bombing. He said that law enforcement needs to have in place a state-of-the-art public safety wireless network that will help his police force communicate with other first responders, from anywhere in the nation, when responding to an event like the bombing. Testimony like this makes it impossible to argue against the case for meaningful investments in first responder technology.

While it will take time to get this network off the ground, we're finally modernizing the way our first responders communicate. Once up and running, FirstNet will fulfill the promise of bringing advanced interoperable communications to emergency officials across the Nation -- and help make sure future Boy Scout Jamborees remain safe and secure.