The move to digital television in 2009 will yield benefits to states still scurrying to enable firefighters, police and other emergency officials to communicate during a crisis, says Stateline.org. States may start applying in mid-July for the first small slice of $1 billion that will be set aside from the Federal Communication Commission's upcoming sale of licenses for the public airwaves that currently carry free, over-the-air television signals. In a report last month on first responders and emergency communications, the Government Accountability Office concluded that – almost six years after the Sept. 11 attacks – “no national plan was in place to coordinate investments across states.” Four states the GAO examined – Florida, Kentucky, New York, and Oregon – had “generally not used strategic plans to guide investments toward broadly improving interoperability,” or coordination of their emergency communications, the report said.
GAO said progress by states and localities could be “impeded” by the U.S. Homeland Security Department's reduction in full-scale emergency exercises and its failure to ensure that states’ grant requests were in line with their statewide plans. Between fiscal 2003 and 2006, Homeland Security allocated nearly $2.7 billion to local communities and states for interoperable equipment and activities. Allocations for 2007 are to be announced. Federal homeland security funds for states have steadily declined since 2004, from high of $3.3 billion for fiscal 2004 to $2.5 billion in fiscal 2007. The president's budget seeks $1.9 billion for fiscal 2008.