In the months leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, there was a lot of discussion about the need for a nationwide high-speed public safety network for first responders. The media took politicians to task for failing to create the network, which was a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report. Now that the anniversary has passed, there’s some concern that public safety needs will be placed on the back burner again.
There are many factors that will prevent this from happening.
Earlier this month, President Obama unveiled the American Jobs Act and framed the spectrum issue as a pro-jobs policy. At the same time, politicians are discussing bills in both the House and Senate that seek to create a public safety network, albeit with vastly different approaches that will require someone to compromise. First responders are also the focus of the HEROES Act, which has been introduced in the House and would fund upgrades to emergency communications equipment.
Businesses are increasingly answering the call for public safety solutions too, with products that cater to first responders’ needs. Most recently, Raytheon has announced that it is expanding its public safety focus with a new Security and Transportation Systems business line that brings the power of a single network—with limitless capability—to public safety.
Some could argue that the perceived need for a dedicated public safety wireless network is overblown. They could point to the fact that response activities were largely unaffected during both Hurricane Irene and last month’s earthquake in Virginia. But the fact that communications towers handled the influx of cellular calls without major outages doesn’t mean that everything’s fine. If anything, there is acute strain on communications systems, as underscored by the fact that FEMA had to urge people to stay off the phone because networks wouldn’t be able to handle the rush of calls to family and friends, as well as emergency response communications.
Right now, public safety personnel and certain lawmakers are demanding that first responders be provided the ability to communicate with each other in real time, something many of us already take for granted with the smartphones and cell phones we use in our everyday lives. This is a need that won’t disappear. And when the next national disaster strikes—and we’re guaranteed there will be another one—we must be prepared and ready for it.