FCC chief: First responders need mobile, wireless system

"When radio towers are knocked down, satellite communications may be the most effective means of communicating," FCC chair Martin said at a Senate hearing. "If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it is that we cannot rely solely on terrestrial communications."

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said yesterday that first responders need a national, mobile, wireless communication system, according to the Washington Post.

"When radio towers are knocked down, satellite communications may be the most effective means of communicating," Martin said at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee. "If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it is that we cannot rely solely on terrestrial communications."

... Martin said yesterday that first responders need "smart radios" that can hop between available networks, and he also urged the creation of a more sophisticated national alert system to warn people of disasters, using the Internet and other newer technologies.

One huge stumbling block is local governments' desire for control of their own systems, said Gerald R. Faulhaber, a former FCC economist. 

"The police chiefs fight tooth and nail to maintain control over their radios and their channels. The fire chiefs fight tooth and nail to maintain control over their radios," he said. "Who is going to take on the police chief? Who is going to take on the fire chief?"

Still, we don't need to wait for the equivalent of the hydrogen cell in emergency comm networks, said David Aylward of COMCare:

"What isn't years away is connecting agencies together and backing it up with redundant satellite and satellite links. That could be done in six months, and it's a travesty that it wasn't done and that it isn't done," he said.

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