In an exclusive interview with Firehouse® Magazine, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Associate Attorney General Raymond C. Fisher answer the questions America's first responders are asking about two important issues - our preparedness for domestic terrorism and the allocation of radio...
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Besides training, preparation, purchasing special protective equipment and detection equipment, and stockpiling medical equipment, is there anything else the fire and emergency services can do to stay ahead?
RENO: Critical to this effort is the need to both plan and coordinate, particularly on a jurisdictional basis, across the various first responder services including fire, law enforcement, medical services and other emergency response agencies, and across jurisdictions to work with surrounding communities and counties, as well as with state and federal agencies.
Any response to an incident involving chemical and biological agents and nuclear and explosive devices is out of necessity a jurisdictional response. Further, that response will eventually include both state and federal resources. Local fire services, along with law enforcement, emergency medical service personnel, public works officials, government officials and other emergency response agencies, all form a community's first line of defense against such incidents. They are supported in that effort by their state and federal counterparts. The ability to plan well, and to coordinate both planning and response, including the use of live "mock" exercises, will be crucial to the success of those efforts.
Is more federal money to be budgeted over the next few years for training, personal protective equipment and medical provisions for first responders including local police, fire and EMS personnel?
RENO: The administration has clearly identified the enhancement of state and local capabilities to respond to incidents involving chemical and biological agents and nuclear and explosive devices as a key and critical priority for the federal government.
The Justice Department has requested $100 million for these efforts in fiscal year 1999 and will make an additional request in fiscal year 2000. The Justice Department, through OJP, has committed to a multi-year domestic preparedness initiative aimed exclusively at providing state and local first responders with critical equipment, training (including the use of situational live exercises) and technical assistance.
Further evidence of this commitment is the establishment of OJP's Center for Domestic Preparedness at Fort McClellan, which became operational on June 1. Within its first four weeks of beginning operations, the center provided instruction to over 300 local first responders. When fully operational, the center expects to train over 10,000 first responders annually.
This is just one aspect of the Justice Department's initiative which is being designed to directly meet the equipment, training and technical assistance needs of the nation's first responder community.
Will the federal government provide this equipment to the smaller cities and towns across the country?
RENO: Providing the nation's smaller communities and rural areas the ability to respond to incidents involving chemical and biological agents and nuclear and explosive devices is a crucial component of the OJP's domestic preparedness initiative.
One of the first tasks of that effort is to assess the needs and capabilities of those smaller and more rural areas to determine how the components of the domestic preparedness initiative, including the acquisition of needed equipment, can best be of assistance.
Approaches under consideration include working with states to provide state-level response units, which will be deployed as needed, and working with smaller communities and rural areas to develop countywide or regional response capabilities.
PUBLIC SAFETY RADIO SPECTRUM
The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 approved by Congress requires the reallocation of 24 MHz of spectrum for public safety use, but that may not take place until television broadcasters complete their transition to digital broadcasting mandated by Dec. 31, 2006. It also allows for extensions beyond 2006 if digital television service in a given market is not at 85 percent. What if anything can be done to help to overcome, relieve or solve the public safety radio crisis today, not eight years from now?