Press Release

Gillibrand, FDNY Commissioner Cassano, NYPD Commissioner Kelly Urge Passage Of First Responder Communications Bill To Effectively Respond To Major Crisis, Thwart Attacks

Aug 17, 2011

Staten Island, NY – As the 10th Anniversary of the 9-11 attacks nears, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro stood in front of Engine 160, Rescue Company 5 calling on Congress to pass critical first responder communications legislation once Congress returns to session in September. The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act would create a nationwide, interoperable wireless broadband network equipping all first responders across local, state, and federal levels with crucial lifesaving communications tools and technology in the event of a major crisis. The bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Senator Gillibrand, would fulfill a key outstanding recommendation of the 9-11 Commission Report and result in quicker response times and effective information sharing among all first responders and public safety officials.

“New York City remains the number one target for terrorists around the world who want to harm Americans,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Nearly ten years after 9-11, it’s time to bring our first responder technology into the 21st century. If we’re going to keep New Yorkers safe, we must ensure that local, state, and federal first responders can effectively communicate with each other in real time during a national crisis.”

“Effective communication is the most crucial component of any operation; which is why the FDNY has worked so hard to improve the radios we use and our interoperability with other first responders here in New York City,” Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano said. “This legislation would dramatically improve the ability for all of us in the fire service and law enforcement to communicate nationwide, especially during a major incident, when it is needed most.”

“When the NYPD sent 300 officers and 30 police cars to New Orleans in the aftermath of the catastrophic flood  there, we had to rig our own communications system to talk to one another and we could not communicate by radio with New Orleans authorities,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said. “Similarly, when scores of first responders from outside New York City came to our aid after 9-11, there was no way to easily integrate them into out radio system.  A dedicated D Block system solves that problem with seamless, secure communications among first responders nationwide, and a new way to quickly transmit video and other data in addition to voice. The legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Gillibrand to reserve part of the spectrum for first responders is critically important to New York and nationally.”

 “It is our duty to give our first responders the tools they need,” said Assembly Member Titone. “I strongly urge Congress to take this measure up immediately to ensure the safety of our first responders as well as the public. I commend Senator Gillibrand for her efforts towards getting this legislation passed.”

The City has led the nation in improving radio command and coordination between the NYPD, FDNY and other regional first responders. Since the 9-11 Commission Report identified poor communications between the agencies during the 9-11 attack and rescue efforts, the City has significantly improved interoperability. The City’s law enforcement, however, has a severely limited capability to communicate with federal agencies and cannot communicate with first responders at all outside the New York City region on an interoperable network. The lack of common nationwide broadband radio frequencies dedicated to public safety and a nationwide mission critical network prevent City’s firefighters and first responders from effectively providing real-time response to a national crisis.

Beyond New York City, firefighters, police officers, and other public safety professionals throughout New York state and across the country still communicate on different frequencies and with different systems, creating barriers to provide a coordinated and efficient response during an emergency. 

The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act would set aside additional spectrum to create a dedicated nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.  This network would allow first responders to communicate seamlessly—from coast-to-coast—during a time of crisis.  Firefighters would be able to download detailed floor plans before rushing into burning buildings.  EMTs would be able to send pictures from an accident scene to doctors in the emergency room.  This kind of situational awareness would protect first responders and save lives. The bill would also provide for voluntary incentive spectrum auctions to pay for the cost of creating a nationwide, interoperable broadband network.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Allocate a swath of spectrum, called the “D-Block,” to first responders for the purpose of creating a public safety communications network;
  • Give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to hold incentive auctions based on the voluntary return of spectrum.  The funds raised by these incentive auctions will be billions beyond what is needed to pay for building the public safety network.   Excess funds will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit.