Police and other agencies responding to Hurricane Katrina had some of the same communications problems exposed by the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, yet a solution is still years away, the Associated Press reports. The issue is the ability of emergency responders to talk to one another on their radios within the same city, and across multiple cities and regions. “Interoperability” is the technical term. Tight space on the radio spectrum, bureaucratic disagreements, and the sheer number of agencies involved in disasters have complicated the search for an answer.
The problem is an expensive one to address. The U.S. Homeland Security Department alone has provided more than $1.5 billion since 2001 to cities and states for radios and other equipment. “It’s a big, complex problem,” said Harlin McEwen, chairman of the Communications and Technology Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. While officials look for better ways to coordinate efforts, there is a move in Congress to free up more radio spectrum to help agencies communicate better in New York and other large metropolitan areas. Lawmakers this week are expected to consider legislation clearing frequencies in the 700 megahertz range and reserving them for public safety.