With 9/11 Anniversary Approaching, FDNY and NYPD Commissioners Urge National Emergency Radio Network

NY Daily News - August 18, 2011

by Jennifer H. Cunningham and Alison Gendar DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

The city's fire and police commissioners urged Congress Wednesday to approve a national emergency radio network in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Gathered at a Staten Island firehouse that lost five members in the attacks, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said their crews couldn't talk to any federal agencies if another terror strike happened tomorrow.

"We've gone light years ahead of where everybody else has gone," Cassano said. "But to have a nationwide system would be even better."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a key proponent of the national radio network, noted, "Congress has yet to fulfill one of the key, outstanding recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report....We needed to have interoperability between local, state and federal first responders."

The nation's police, fire and rescue operations use more than 55,000 separate radio networks.

The goal would be to create a single network on the radio spectrum so rescuers could talk across city, state and regional lines - and share crucial documents like building blueprints or arrest records.

"To reserve part of the spectrum for first responders is critically important to New York and nationally," Kelly said.

Money is not the primary congressional stumbling block.

A review by the Congressional Budget Office estimated a nationwide system would pay for itself through the auction of unused broadband - generating up to $6.5 billion in surplus that could go toward cutting the nation's debt.

The legislation has languished amid partisan squabbling over whether the government or private companies should own and run the network.

"We're going to go back [to Capitol Hill] in September," said Gillibrand, who joined Cassano and Kelly at the station housing Engine 160 and Rescue Company 5. "I think we'll have the support when we have the vote."

"The status quo is unacceptable," she added.