September 14, 2005 2:05 PM PDT

Senators request $5 billion for emergency networks

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, senators are clamoring for billions of dollars to enhance the communications network that first responders rely on during emergencies.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, has proposed that Congress provide $5 billion in "immediate" funds intended "for the basic hardware that allows emergency responders to talk with one another and coordinate their efforts," according to a press release from her office.

The proposal, co-sponsored by eight Senate Democrats, is one of a slew of proposed amendments to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill, which is currently under debate and could go to a vote later this week.

The brief, broadly phrased amendment would place the funding in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security, which would then pass it on as grants to state and local entities. Two months ago, Stabenow offered a similar addition to the Homeland Security appropriations bill, but her measure was defeated.

"Tragically, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, various law enforcement agencies and other first responders were unable to talk to one another, greatly hampering immediate relief and rescue efforts," Stabenow said in a press release. The same state of affairs, she added, occurred during the events of Sept. 11.

The trouble, she said, is that the radio communications systems used by emergency personnel in most communities nationwide are not fully "interoperable"--that is, various divisions, ranging from police and fire to homeland security and government officials, talk on different frequencies and often aren't able to connect with one another.

Stabenow cited statistics from a June 2004 report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which found that 94 percent of the 192 cities surveyed do not have interoperable capability among their transportation departments, police, fire and emergency medical services.

The statistics are more favorable, however, when fewer players are involved. About two-thirds of the surveyed cities do have networks that are interoperable across police, fire and EMS, and more than 77 percent have linked at least their police and fire communications. About three quarters of the cities blamed their failure to achieve full interoperability on limited funding, the report said.

The idea of government-sponsored grants for such technology is hardly new. Both the Justice and Homeland Security departments already administer such funds, although they are not always earmarked specifically for tackling interoperability concerns. Several measures have been introduced in Congress over the years, including one proposed in June by Sen. Joseph Lieberman that would disperse $3.3 billion in grants over five years.

After witnessing the Katrina disaster firsthand, Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, has also rallied for speedy action on the matter.

"It is difficult to coordinate even a lunch date with girlfriends or a fishing trip with your buddies without a telephone, radio or cell phone that works," Landrieu said, according to the press release from Stabenow's office.

"Yet the federal government expected us to evacuate and rescue hundreds of thousands of South Louisianans, from their homes, rooftops, nursing homes and hospitals without even these basic tools," she went on. "We don't need more studies, and for goodness' sake, we don't need another national tragedy to highlight the need for interoperability."


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
When all else fails....
Amature Radio!

Races and Ares both are mobilezed within hours of a disaster, if not minuites to start communication efforts in areas.

Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Everyone Say it together: No More Toys
The problem with Katrina area was not a lack of equipment, it was that transmission towers and dispatch stations were either inundated/flooded/or without power. In order for this to make sense the communications would have to be satellite, which wastes radio spectrum and is extremely expensive.

The better solution is to have local government bother themselves with better/any planning. More money and more toys won't fix these problems, which were at the heart of the mixup in Katrina's wake.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
OnStar To The Rescue
GM has been advertising OnStar for the last 4 years as a means to rescue people from all sorts of situations, including heart attacks, accidents, etc. It's two-way, and has GPS. Surely a system like this could be implemented at a price far less than $5 billion (it will be $10-15 billion by the time it is done). Oh, but if that were done then no-bid contracts couldn't be handed out to milspec DOD manufacturers. So sorry!

BTW, wasn't this kind of system weakness, identified after 911, supposed to have been taken care of by now? There seemed to be enough money to go around to put up hidden cameras all over the place, and to buy police departments fancy new patrol cars. I guess those projects were done under a different no bid contract.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silly isn't it?
Every time there is some sort of disaster, politicians say that they will change things so that it will be better next time. Doesn't seem to actually happen though.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
A framework for a resilient public-safety infrastructure
Lets recall several facts: immediately following Katrina, more than 1 million customers had no electrical power. Floodwaters inundated thousands of square miles and washed entire towns away. Bridges and roads were destroyed. Winds had blown down trees, utility lines, and communications towers. Airports were closed; rail, river, and ocean traffic were nearly impossible. Potable water was unavailable; the sanitary infrastructure had disgorged itself into streets, creeks, and rivers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands lay dead; more than a million had fled to a dozen nearby states.

Conventional telephone systems didnt work for lack of power, downed lines, and flooded cables. Nor did cellular telephone systems, because their towers had blown down, their power was out, and the conventional telephone network on which they depend was out-of-service. Television, radio, newspapers, the INTERNET -- all mass media were crippled for lack of power, labor, supplies, distribution capability, even markets. With conventional telephone and cellular systems inoperable, police, fire, ambulance, and other public safety organizations had to deal with a communications infrastructure breakdown.

In short, Katrina had blown the residents of 90,000 square miles (an area twice the size of Pennsylvania) from the 21st century to a stone-age flood plain in less than a day.

The question becomes, Do legitimate alternatives exist? Telephone and cellular companies will leap forward to assure us that they are best equipped to fill the need. Right!

Lets look at how the military (both National Guard and conventional forces) came equipped with their own tactical communications infrastructure. The Department of Defense (DoD) has learned from sad experience that an inability to communicate -- among service branches and up-and-down the chain-of-command -- costs lives. DoD now relies on systems that utilize, among other assets, satellite transmission resources and long-loiter communications and reconnaissance platforms. By using solar-powered, self-contained switching stations at high altitude and in near-, medium-, and geosynchronous earth orbit, DoD neednt fret about flooding, power interruptions, or other inconveniences of nature. A derivative: DoD maintains end-to-end quality, security, and bandwidth control.

Of course, such do-dads are expensive. And every state, county, and local police and fire department will whine that such a system isnt secure enough (how foolish), isnt available in a color that matches its squad cars (maybe DoD can gin-up something in a multi-camo motif); that there arent enough (or there are too many) buttons for them to use. Theyll want both right- and left-handed models. The ******** could be endless.

But, by leading the specification/standardization/acquisition process, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FEMA can put a national disaster response communications system in place.

No doubt; it WILL BE expensive, but theres context. Katrinas everything-included cost to the taxpayer could approach $500 Billion & double what the U. S. has spent to date in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the $5 Billion earmarked in Stabenows bill is anywhere near accurate, Ill sleep a little better knowing that were ready for the next Big One by investing a mere 1% of Katrinas recovery cost in a legitimate national capability.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's Part of It
Yes, R.t., interoperable systems at the edge of the network are required. It doesn't have to be satellite. Basic 70's style RF still can still hit the sweet spot of the problem. Dare To Do Less, not that I am adverse to satellite systems but it can take five to ten years to get those into the field. Pick some shorter more attainable target technologies and be sure the emerging standards work on these.

However, you are close to the issues:

1. Dispatch to dispatch message standards are needed. Systems have to be able to failover to the neighbors CAD/EOC.

2. On failover, mobile units as assignable assets have to inteoperate with the new center.

3. Asset identification and catalog management has to be interoperable. This means getting the asset database schemas for assets at the level of standardization and implementation as say, GJXML. We overfocused on criminal investigation and interdiction and neglected emergency response.

4. Asset management may include the call lists. Note that these have to be worked BEFORE the storm strikes. Not having enough bus drivers makes having pre-positioned buses worthless. Standards for alerting such as OASIS CAP and EDXL are fine as long as they continue to useful on low-capacity, low-bandwidth devices. Be sure the use cases for the standard recognize the need to operate in a degraded mode.

But Federal budget or no, the buy cycle for public safety is about twelve years. Yes the local requirements that force excessive customization make the systems far more expensive than they should be. At 10,000 feet, each State is a separate market. Comments from Governors about insisting on their turf being locally controlled do not augur well for changing that. At the very least, the procurements have to think regionally which is what transportation system bids such as Metropolitant Transit Authority (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) and Amtrak are doing.

Smarter RFPs with more emphasis on regional interoperation are necessary or all of the funds being appropriated will only buy more of the same.

A Cat 5 into a coastal area will still kill and dismember a community. The response can be improved but I doubt it can be made perfect or that any serious legislator doubts that either.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Link Flag
Green Electricity (GEL) Initiative
Text of the Green Electricity (GEL) Initiative: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Read more here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by 207796398873175208235380528963 (53 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.