Datastream: Senate pitches first-responder communications bill

Members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs Committee are co-sponsoring legislation to authorize $3.9 billion to
create a national architecture enabling first-responder agencies to communicate
wirelessly.


The Improve Interoperable Communications for First
Responders Act of 2005 includes $3.3 billion over five years for short- and
long-term interoperability initiatives and grant programs, as well as $611
million for the Homeland Security Department's Office of Interoperability and
Compatibility for outreach, research, pilot programs and technical assistance.


Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Susan Collins
(R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), the chairwoman and ranking Democrat,
respectively, on the committee.


"From computer systems to emergency radios, the
technology that should allow the different levels of government to communicate
with each other often is silenced by incompatibility," Collins said in a news
release. "The barrier to a truly unified effort against terrorism is a matter
of both culture and equipment."


Interoperable communications for first responders has been
a key issue for the Homeland Security Department since it was founded. The
inability of firefighters to communicate easily by radio with police officers on
scene at the

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Sept. 11, 2001
, is considered a factor in many of their deaths.


State and local agencies can apply part of the $3 billion
made available in federal homeland security grants each year toward new radio
and wireless equipment and connectors, towers and devices to link equipment.
However, there is no dedicated fund for such programs, and progress has been
difficult to measure. n


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