Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt has some erudite observations on the state of emergency communications:
Katrina overwhelmed the nation's complex communications system, raising
serious questions about whether federal and local governments need new
powers to organize a rapid response by the wireless, wire, cable,
satellite, and broadcast industries.
Moreover, it seems clear that first responders ought to have a resilient, mobile wireless data network that they can share.
Just as the government has known about the vulnerability
of the levees in New Orleans to a severe hurricane, so too has the
problem of incompatible and ineffective communications for first
responders and emergency personnel been well documented most recently
by the 9/11 Commission.
Tragically, while little progress has been made in four years, the
solution is also well-known. Just visit your neighborhood Starbucks.
The United States today has no system in place that allows emergency
response personnel to communicate reliably and effectively in a crisis.
For years, government studies have pointed out how incompatible and
ineffective the communications systems used by emergency responders
An April, 2004 report by the Government Accounting Office put it
starkly: The wireless communications used today by many public
officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and other public
safety agencies do not provide [the ability] to effectively carry out
their normal duties and respond to extraordinary events.
We saw the dire effects of this failure to properly equip our
emergency responders had in New York City in 2001, when the police and
fire departments in New York lost situational awareness because they
could not talk with each other. Yet there is no excuse that our
emergency responders should be unable to communicate when they are in
the field performing life-threatening and life-saving work under the
most difficult of situations.
Fixing this is not difficult…