Schumer: Long Island Police & Fire Personnel Unable To Share Critical Information Unless Feds Clear Airwaves Asap
Currently, 7 out-of-state tv stations are using the radio frequency needed by L.I. police & fire departments to share life or death info; Feds have asked TV stations to switch frequencies but not until Dec. 2006
Schumer to Feds: Current policy leaves Nassau and Suffolk County first responders uncoordinated and vulnerable in the interim; Feds must speed up frequency switch ASAP
US Senator Charles Schumer today warned that Long Islands first responders remain uncoordinated and vulnerable in the event of a major catastrophe because they dont have access to a shared radio frequency. Schumer called on the Federal government to kick seven outofstate tv stations off the frequency designated for use by emergency personnel to share information and coordinate response efforts. Schumer urged the Federal Communications Commission to free up the 700 band frequency for Nassau and Suffolk firemen, police and EMTs immediately to improve communication at the time of an emergency.
Its common sense that our first responders have every tool available to share information and coordinate their efforts in the event of an emergency, Schumer said. In the post9/11 world we cannot be too careful. We have to get our priorities in order and speed this along for the safety and well being of Long Islands finest and bravest who are ready and willing to rush into the face of danger to protect us everyday.
Currently, emergency personnel in Nassau and Suffolk use a number of different frequencies making it complicated and difficult for information to reach all first responders and community leaders quickly and accurately. The Suffolk County Police Department and EMS operate on the 806821 frequency; the Suffolk County Fire Department, however, operates on a mix of UHF and VHF low band width frequencies. Similarly, the Nassau County Fire Department and EMS operates on the 800 frequency, and Nassau Police Department operates on a mix of lower frequencies.
Congress has mandated that all first responders use the 700 band frequency, but this frequency is not available for use in either Nassau or Suffolk Counties because seven outofstate tv stations operate on it, blocking first responders from using this wavelength to communicate with one another. Once all first responders are on the 700 band frequency, they will be able to add new response technologies and share real time information safely and quickly. The 700 band frequency has greater capabilities and larger volumes of information and mixed media images, footage and sound can be shared easily on this air wave, making it a highly useful tool as emergency personnel rush to the scene of a catastrophe.
As part of the 1997 Balance Budget Act, Congress gave the stations until December 31, 2006 to vacate the frequency; however, even then it is unclear whether or not all of the stations will be forced to comply due to a loophole in the law. That loophole would allow broadcast stations to stay on the 700 band frequency even after December 2006 if leaving it would disrupt service to their customers, and many of these stations have refused to leave the 700 band on those grounds. The seven stations currently blocking Long Islands first responders from using the 700 band include WQPX 64, Scranton PA; WFMZ 69, Allentown PA; WPXQ 69, Block Island RI; WMBC 63, Newton NJ; WFUT 68, Newark NJ; WEDY 65, New Haven CT; WUVP 65, Vineland NJ; WWSI 62, Atlantic City NJ. Schumer said that the terrorist attacks of 2001 illustrated the urgency of opening up these air waves for first responders in the NY metropolitan area and said that the deadline must reflect this new urgency.
Schumer today asked the FCC to move up the deadline for Long Island and the rest of the NY Metropolitan area and to require all stations to vacate this frequency so that emergency response personnel can use it to coordinate their efforts. As a primary target for terrorists, New York City and its neighboring counties must have first responders who can communicate quickly and effectively, Schumer wrote in a letter to FCC Chair Michael Powell. Interoperability in the New York City metropolitan area cannot happen, however, until the police, fire, and EMT units there can use the 700 MHz band spectrum allocated to them by Congress seven years ago. Schumer asked that the FCC expedite the waiver of its rules which permit those seven broadcasting stations to occupy the 700 band frequency on Long Island.
"The 700 Mhz frequencies are a vital part of the efforts of first responders to effectively communicate and transmit video, text, and oral information," Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi said. "Nassau County is grateful to Senator Schumer for recognizing that communication among first responders is not simply a county issue, but rather is a regional concern that necessitates a coordinated response."
I fully support Senator Schumers efforts to free the 700 MHz band for public safety use, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said. It needs to be done now, not in 2008. It is imperative that our public safety agencies have a reliable communications system, and having television stations vacate the band will help us to achieve that goal.
Schumer has long been an advocate for improving communications for first responders. Last week Schumer announced that the Senate voted to authorize his plan for the nations first Signal Corps style program and said that New York is likely to be selected for one of two pilot programs which would drastically improve communications between the citys first responders at a terror site. The model programs funded by Federal Homeland Security Funding would create a specialized demonstration project of police, firefighters, EMTs, and other emergency personnel whose only job is to guarantee that first responders can communicate with one another, headquarters and the public at disaster sites and after terrorist attacks. Schumer was joined today by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi; Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy; Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Villoria Fisher; Suffolk County Chief Fire Marshal Warran Horst; and Suffolk County Chief of Communications Miles Gwin.