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Newsday: Editorial: Help first responders talk



Tuesday, May 24th 2011

The inability of first responders to communicate in a crisis is a potentially deadly gap in the nation's emergency preparedness that Congress has a chance to correct. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Lawmakers should set aside a broadband spectrum for a nationwide emergency network. That would allow police, firefighters and officials from different jurisdictions and states to share videos, maps and data over mobile devices. If a nuclear reactor melts down in Connecticut and radiation wafts toward Long Island, first responders there and here will need to be able to communicate.

The spectrum Congress is eyeing is not in use. Some lawmakers would prefer to auction it to a commercial carrier, with the condition that the winner develop a public safety network and give it priority use. Proceeds from the sale would go to deficit reduction. But an auction in 2008 generated no viable bids.

Legislation from Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) would instead set aside a spectrum solely for first responders, a proposal supported by New York's senators. Other spectrums would be auctioned to cover the cost of developing the emergency network, and up to $10 billion would go to deficit reduction.

Ensuring that emergency workers can communicate seamlessly across jurisdictions is one of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, and it remains unfulfilled. Congress shouldn't let another crisis catch it with this critical work undone.