Conference: The Crisis in Public Safety Communications

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A Conference of the Information Economy Project

December 8, 2006, Arlington, Virginia

Exactly five years to the day before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the FCC issued a report warning that a lack of interoperability among public safety emergency communications systems was preventing emergency personnel from protecting life and property. “Rescuing victims of the [1993] World Trade Center bombing, who were caught between floors, was hindered when police officers could not communicate with firefighters on the very next floor,” the report stated. Sadly, it was precisely such interoperability problems that would prevent over 100 New York City firefighters from receiving an evacuation order on September 11th before the towers collapsed. Until an improved public safety communications system is actually implemented, tragic outcomes will continue to haunt first responders to public emergencies.

The Crisis in Public Safety Communications Conference brought together prominent scholars, policymakers, and industry officials to discuss solutions to this deadly serious problem. Major telecommunications scholars presented groundbreaking research on what causes the lack of effective communication between local public safety personnel, and how U.S. spectrum policies have failed to remedy this Balkanization problem. This research was then discussed by two panels of industry executives, public safety officials, and policymakers with deep knowledge of the problems confronting us.

This Conference was co-sponsored by the Information Economy Project and the Mercatus Center.


Schedule of Events:

8:00 – 8:30 am

Opening address

  • Nancy Victory, Chair of FCC Independent Panel Reviewing the Impact of Hurricane Katrina on Communications Networks, and formerly Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration

8:30 – 10:00 am

Panel I – Perspectives from the Academic Community

  • Moderated by Prof. Thomas W. Hazlett, Professor of Law and Economics, George Mason University School of Law
  • Gerald Faulhaber, Wharton School
  • Jon Peha, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Phil Weiser, University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • Jerry Brito, Mercatus Center at George Mason University

10:00 – 10:10 am  Break

10:10 – 11:10 am

Panel II – Perspectives from the Business Community

  • Morgan O’Brien, Chairman, Cyren Call Communications
  • Chris Guttman-McCabe, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, CTIA-The Wireless Association

11:10 – 11:15 am Break

11:15 – 12:15 pm

Panel III – Perspectives from the Policymaking Community

  • David Furth, Associate Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, FCC
  • Charles Werner, Fire Chief with the City of Charlottesville, VA
  • Adele Morris, Economist, US Department of Treasury

12:15 – 1:30 pm

Luncheon Address

  • Charles Werner, Fire Chief with the City of Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department; Past Chair and present member of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee.

1:30 pm: Conference Ends


The Information Economy Project is proud to present articles that have been published in the Federal Communications Law Journal, March 2007 from the Crisis in Public Safety Communications conference held on December 8, 2006:

 

Sending Out an S.O.S.: Public Safety Communications Interoperability as a Collective Action Problem, by Jerry Brito, 59 Federal Communications Law Journal 457-92 (2007), Quick Links: Crisis in Public Safety Communications Conference. Excerpt: On September 11, 2001, officers from the New York City police and fire departments responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That morning, police and firefighters entered each of the Twin Towers in an effort to help those inside. Shortly after the South Tower collapsed, an officer in a police helicopter hovering over the scene radioed to his colleagues, “About 15 floors down from the top, it looks like it’s glowing red. It’s inevitable.”1 Then another police pilot reported, “I don’t think this has too much longer to go. I would evacuate all people within the area of that second building.”2

Solving the Interoperability Problem: Are We On the Same Channel? An Essay on the Problems and Prospects for Public Safety Radio, by Gerald R. Faulhaber, 59 Federal Communications Law Journal 493-516 (2007), Quick Links: Crisis in Public Safety Communications Conference, Gerald Faulhaber. Excerpt: Public safety radio communication provides the essential link by which fire, police, emergency medical services (“EMS”), and other emergency personnel respond to life- and property-threatening situations. Communications enables the situational awareness, command, and operational control without which the response of multiple agencies to an emergency is less than useless. Key to this communications capability is interoperability: the capability of first responders from different agencies to communicate during emergencies.

Fundamental Reform in Public Safety Communications Policy, by Jon M. Peha, 59 Federal Communications Law Journal 517-46 (2007), Quick Links: Crisis in Public Safety Communications Conference. Excerpt: All across the country, there have been failures in the communications systems used by first responders, such as firefighters, police, paramedics, and the National Guard. These failures can cost lives in emergencies both large and small. This problem has gained particular attention in the tragic aftermaths of the 9/11 attacks1 and Hurricane Katrina,2 when inadequacies in the current system were particularly obvious, but attention has not yet translated to significant progress.

Communicating During Emergencies: Toward Interoperability and Effective Information Management, by Philip J. Weiser, 59 Federal Communications Law Journal 547-74 (2007), Quick Links: Crisis in Public Safety Communications Conference. Excerpt: The crisis of communications on 9/11 and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina underscores that emergency responders are largely illequipped to communicate effectively in times of disaster as well as in day-to-day emergency situations that require the coordination of several different public safety agencies. The reason for this state of affairs is that public safety agencies traditionally have made individualized decisions about information and communications technology,1 generally failing to purchase state-of-the-art technology that operates effectively and interoperates with others involved in emergency response.

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