The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, came with a few valuable lessons—among them was a glaring need for better communication over emergency radios between first responders, a challenge that remains 10 years later.

In the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, firefighters and police officers had difficulty communicating with each other. And recently, in the aftermath of the 5.9-magnitude earthquake along the East Coast, first responders in Virginia experienced service disruption for several hours due to congestion on wireless networks.

A 9/11 Commission Report Card released last month stated that on Sept. 11, 2001, “the inability of first responders to communicate with each other on demand was a critical failure.”

Based on a 9/11 Commission recommendation, public safety officials across the country—including San Jose police Chief Chris Moore—have been working together in support of a nationwide interoperable broadband network dedicated to public safety.

Moore is a representative of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which is working with the Public Safety Alliance, a coalition of the leading national public safety associations formed in 2009 to represent every first responder organization in the country.

In July, Moore testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington, D.C., urging the committee to support a piece of legislation that would allocate to public safety a 700-megahertz band of airwaves known as the “D-block”—which is being freed up as media companies convert to digital signals.

Public safety agencies are competing with private entities for the D-block.

“It is worth a lot to the carriers, it is worth a lot to public safety, because it penetrates buildings, it goes through mountains,” Moore said. “I can be in a basement and hear you and I can also be out on the street and be able to hear you. So it’s really prime Manhattan real estate.”
Lawmakers have not yet reached a consensus on whether to directly allocate the spectrum to public safety or to have the Federal Communications Commission auction it to commercial carriers and mandate them to share the network with public safety agencies. An auction would raise billions of dollars for the Treasury, Moore said.

When the Federal Communications Commission attempted to auction the spectrum in 2008, it did not garner enough interest by commercial wireless carriers.

In Washington, Moore called on Congress to provide the necessary funding to develop the network and establish the authority to oversee and manage the maintenance and operation of the network.

“This is an unique, one-time opportunity to change our operations of the past, a past trying to make do by linking and patching together communications systems on thin slices of spectrum spread out over at least six different bands to acquire interoperability and spectral efficiency,” he
told the committee.

Moore said having the bandwidth allocation is vital to public safety because it would cut the cost of services and enable first responders to operate efficiently during major emergencies.

The network would facilitate coordinated responses to disasters and regional emergencies and allow first responders to transmit text and video from crime and accident scenes.

Currently, several legislative proposals to fund, build and manage such a network are moving through the House and Senate, including legislation by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, a ranking member on the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Earlier this week, Eshoo called on Congress to pass the legislation, known as the “Public Safety Broadband and Wireless Innovation Act,” as soon as possible.

“Congress should act decisively and quickly to address the unacceptable situation which remains in place a decade since the attack on our country,” she said. “The network must be well-funded, well-managed, and provide our nation’s first responders with a state-of-the-art communications
system. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Moore said he is hopeful Congress will pass the legislation by the end of the year.

“In my 30-plus years, this is probably the single most important issue that I’ve worked on in my career,” Moore said. “We have demonstrated the need and we have the support of the White House and significant members of Congress. We need to get this done.”