Press Release

With Over 23,000 Police and Fire Departments Across NYS That Cannot All Communicate With Each Other Effectively During Emergencies, Gillibrand Calls for Upgrade to Emergency Communications System

May 18, 2011

Washington, D.C. – With more than 2,300 police and fire departments across New York State that cannot all communicate with each other effectively during times of emergency, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is today calling on the House and Senate to pass legislation that would provide first responders and public safety officials with critical interoperable radio airwaves needed to effectively communicate in the event a major response is needed.

The 9-11 Commission Report identified insufficient interoperability among communications systems used by first responders during the attacks and rescue efforts. Senator Gillibrand is urging Congress to come together before the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks and pass the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act, legislation that would create a framework for the deployment of a nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband network for public safety.

“There is no higher priority than the security of our families and communities,” Senator Gillibrand said. “If we’re going to keep New Yorkers safe, all of our first responders must be able to communicate with each other in real time during emergencies. Nearly ten years after the horror of 9-11, it’s time to bring our first responder technology into the 21st century, and free New York’s emergency personnel from federal bureaucracy to get the job done.”

Data compiled from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Office of Fire and Prevention Control show that New York State is home to 1,791 fire departments and 568 police departments. Due to an insufficient emergency communications system, these departments cannot all communicate effectively with each other during emergencies.


  • In Western New York, there are 250 fire departments and 73 police departments.
  • In the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, there are 181 fire departments and 61 police departments.
  • In Central New York, there are 249 fire departments and 75 police departments.
  • In Southern Tier, there are 174 fire departments and 49 police departments.
  • In the Capital Region, there are 273 fire departments and 72 police departments.
  • In North Country, there are 198 fire departments and 47 police departments.
  • In the Hudson Valley, there are 277 fire departments and 130 police departments.
  • On Long Island, there are 176 fire departments and 46 police departments.
  • In New York City, there are 13 fire departments and 15 police departments.

Senator Gillibrand is urging Congress to pass the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act before the tenth anniversary of September 11. The legislation would set aside additional airwaves for first responders to build a nationwide wireless broadband network.  This network would allow all first responders to communicate seamlessly—from county-to-county, and 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.

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 FCC 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—to the tune of $10 billion—will be used to pay down our nation’s deficit. 


President Obama identified this initiative as a priority in this year’s State of the Union address, calling for the development and deployment of a nationwide wireless broadband network that would afford public safety agencies with far greater levels of effectiveness and interoperability.