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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Also, can Congress look at the suggestion of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee to allow 2.5 MHz immediately to address interoperability needs on the VHF and UHF band between 138 and 512 MHz; 25 MHz in the short term; and an additional 70 MHz by 2010?
RENO: I recognize that the safety of all Americans depends on the ability of law enforcement and public safety officials to communicate quickly and effectively with each other. I am strongly committed to the department's doing whatever it can to improve that communication at the federal, state and local levels.
The final report of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) concluded that meeting the current and future spectrum needs of state and local public safety agencies and achieving interoperability across federal, state and local agencies will require new spectrum allocations. Some of this need may eventually be met by the 24 MHz provided to public safety by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. In addition to the 24 MHz, the PSWAC report identified the need for up to an additional 70 MHz of spectrum for state and local agencies and a need for 2.5 MHz of spectrum to support interoperability across federal, state, and local agencies. The Department of Justice is committed to seeing that these important recommendations of the PSWAC report are implemented.
We are promoting a public education campaign to help members of Congress, regulatory officials and the media better understand how vital spectrum is to the saving of lives and property. It is important for all of us who impact how wireless spectrum is allocated to explain that this is not just a technical matter dealing with radio frequencies, but rather a matter of practical concern for firefighters, rescue personnel, law enforcement officers and the public they serve. The entire public safety community can play a role in educating and providing information to our decision-makers in Congress and in state and local government.
We need to emphasize that, in the end, this isn't a technical issue; it's about the child stuck in a burning building, the elder citizen who has suffered a stroke and the single woman with a would-be robber beating down her door. Seconds do matter and proper allocation of wireless spectrum is about those seconds.
Unfortunately, for too many public safety agencies, shortages of spectrum are coupled with shortages of the funding that is critical to implementing and maintaining wireless communications systems. The Vice President's National Performance Review initiative called for the creation of an interagency working group to come up with innovative mechanisms to fund public safety wireless communications. The Department of Justice has taken the lead in coordinating this group with the departments of Treasury and Commerce and with the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group. A number of other federal agencies and the Federal Communications Commission have participated as well.
We are optimistic that by bringing together the right people from the right agencies that we will be able to help address the dramatic need for funding that state and local public safety agencies are facing.
I have appointed Ray Fisher, the associate attorney general, to be my senior-level advisor on public safety wireless communications issues. Ray is well-acquainted with how vital wireless communications are to public safety and can answer any specific questions you may have.
A major concern for public safety providers is a limit to the number of radio channels that can be used for dispatching and on-scene use. Will the availability of additional spectrum on the 764-806 bands help the local police, fire and EMS departments in their everyday responses?
FISHER: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plays a key role in this arena. The FCC is in the midst of a rule making that will result in determinations about how the 24 MHz of spectrum on the 764-806 MHz bands will be used. I am meeting with the chairman and the commissioners of the FCC to relay some concerns of the public safety community. I intend to stress that this 24 MHz is a good start, but that additional spectrum will still be needed, as was detailed in the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee report.