New York police and fire department veterans came to Washington yesterday to press for legislation that would modernize their emergency radios, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill would set aside a chunk of radio spectrum just for first responders. That change, advocates say, would allow the development of crisis communications technology that many teenagers already have on their smartphones. New York City officials have been among the most outspoken advocates for the legislation, citing the communication problems they suffered on Sept. 11, 2001.
Critics say the current system of local emergency radios, scattered across different spectrums and based on decades-old technology, is easily overwhelmed when major emergencies occur. After Hurricane Katrina, the loss of power left many police and fire personnel unable to talk to each other, even with cellphones. New York lawmakers are trying have the legislation come up for a vote before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The deadline may prove difficult given the all-consuming nature of the budget negotiations and a looming August recess. The legislation would pay for the new first responder system by auctioning other parts of the spectrum for use by private industry. There is resistance to the funding mechanism from some Republicans –particularly in the House — who say any money generated by spectrum auctions should go toward paying down the national debt.