Nearly three years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, emergency response agencies around the nation still can’t talk to each other in a crisis, says U.S. News & World Report. In New York City, police and fire agencies aren’t communicating, even though their inability to work together contributed to the deaths of firefighters when the second tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
This week, the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks will hold hearings in Manhattan to gain insight into what went wrong that day and to see what has been done since to fix the problem. The answers are unlikely to calm many fears. In Washington, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee will introduce the CONNECT First Responder Act to require the Department of Homeland Security to improve communications links among federal, state, and local agencies. Emergency responders have a term for talking to each other–it’s called “interoperability.” Experts are skeptical of an easy solution. The lack of a reliable system, says the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, International, is “a long-standing, complex, and costly problem.” Federal efforts have often been “disconnected, fragmented, and often conflicting.”
Last week, David Boyd, the director of the homeland security department’s emergency communications initiative, called SAFECOM, held a conference call with state and local officials about stopgap measures that could be implemented. SAFECOM would bring together the resources of several federal agencies that have been working on the issue. Together they would offer 10 of the highest-risk cities, including New York, funds and training to link their existing emergency communications systems and provide a way to govern their use. The goal would be to have limited systems, in each city, fully operational by September 30. “We need to have interoperability up now,” Boyd says. “We know the terrorists are not going to wait.” Cities included in the program would be Boston, Chicago, Houston, Jersey City, N.J., Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington ,D.C., U.S. News says.