Sept. 23 --Two senior Democrats on the House Energy and
Commerce Committee said in a letter that first responder communications failures
during the Sept. 16 Navy Yard shooting show the need to get the First Responder
Network Authority (FirstNet) up and running.
First responder union
officials recently said some emergency radios failed to work Sept. 16, causing
D.C. police and firefighters to use their personal cell phones or send people
to communicate outside of the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command
building where Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people.
Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-Calif.) , Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member and Rep. Anna Eshoo
(D-Calif.) told Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon
Clyburn and Larry Strickling, the administrator of the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), that they need
investigate what went wrong and ensure that FirstNet addresses the
The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation
Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96) created FirstNet, set aside 10 MHz of spectrum
and appropriated $7 billion to build a nationwide interoperable broadband
network for public safety officials. FirstNet is an independent authority
within the NTIA and the FCC is currently drafting rules for a broadcast
spectrum incentive auction whose proceeds will subsequently fund FirstNet's
“Press reports of the Navy Yard
tragedy indicate that some of the radio problems experienced by police and
firefighters at the scene -- including inadequate indoor coverage, radio
interference caused by fire alarms, and the inability to communicate with
non-Navy first responder radio systems -- were known long before the shooting
and that little was done to solve these issues,” the letter said.
imperative that we understand what happened to these communications systems and
why,” the letter said. “And it is critical that the lessons of this latest
tragedy be passed along to FirstNet, so it can design the future network to
avoid such communications breakdowns.”
The letter comes as the House
Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology prepares to
hold a FirstNet oversight hearing during the first week of October, committee
aides separately told Bloomberg BNA. The hearing has not yet been announced and
a subcommittee spokesman did not comment Sept. 23.
The FirstNet board of directors, which is tasked with
developing the nationwide interoperable communications network for first
responders, said it is already investigating the communications issues that
occurred during the Navy Yard shooting.
FirstNet General Manager Bill
D'Agostino said during a Sept. 23 board meeting that FirstNet is working with
D.C. first responder officials “to understand what we can learn from this
incident.” D'Agostino said FirstNet employees are also working with first
responder officials in Massachusetts and Oklahoma to learn from the
communications problems that occurred in the responses to the Boston Marathon
bombing and the tornado that struck Moore, Okla.
The FirstNet board
released a report at the Sept. 23 meeting concluding that the board
has conducted open and transparent decision making in response to allegations
from some first responder groups that the board lacks transparency and
disregards the needs of public safety officials.
The FirstNet special
review committee concluded in its Sept. 20 report that the board's pre-meeting
briefings and weekly calls were “informational briefings that did not
constitute decision making, voting or otherwise narrow options in such a manner
so as to preclude issues that would appropriately be considered by the board in
public session.” At an April 23 FirstNet board meeting, board member Sheriff
Paul Fitzgerald of Story County, Iowa, said he was concerned that FirstNet was
not engaging in open and transparent decision making as is required by the
Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller
IV, (D-W.Va.), recently accused Motorola Solutions Inc., of “financing a public
relations and lobbying campaign” to say the FirstNet Board lacks transparency
in order to “erode support for FirstNet's work and mission.” A Motorola
spokesman subsequently denied that it was seeking to undermine FirstNet's
Creating FirstNet is the last unexecuted recommendation of the
9/11 Commission which noted how first responders experienced pervasive
communication problems during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at email@example.com
For more information
read the lawmaker's letter here: http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Strickling-Clyburn-Navy-Yard-FirstNet-2013-9-23.pdf.
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