NVFC Testifies on Communications Interoperability

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, February 15, Tim Bradley testified on behalf of NVFC before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology. Bradley is the Senior Deputy State Fire Marshal in the office of State Fire Marshal in North Carolina and has been a member of the Mebane Volunteer Fire Department for 32 years, where he still serves as Assistant Chief today. The subcommittee met to discuss the communications interoperability challenges that first responders face and to determine what needs to be done in order to improve their situation. NVFC was asked to provide a fire service perspective on the topic.

“It is intolerable to me that our Nation’s law enforcement, fire service, and emergency medical services personnel still confront many of the same emergency communication problems that I did as a rookie cop more than 34 years ago,” said Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert in his opening statement. “It is intolerable to me that – even with the rapid pace of technological innovation and the vast amounts of money dedicated to improving emergency communications – our Nation’s first responders still experience difficulty communicating with one another, on demand, in real time, when needed.”

Bradley recommended that the federal government provide more leadership in facilitating communications interoperability.

“If improving interoperable communications capabilities really is one of seven National Priorities critical to achieving the DHS’ National Preparedness Goal, there needs to be stronger federal coordination,” said Bradley. “The Office of Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) is part of the Office of Systems Engineering and Development, which is under the Science and Technology Directorate at DHS. Interoperability needs a higher profile than this within DHS and in the federal government in general.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell, ranking member of the Subcommittee, agreed that OIC does not have the resources or positioning to fully carry out its mission.

“The President’s budget proposes a modest $3.5 million increase for the OIC in FY 2007,” Pascrell said. “This increase is far less than what is necessary to remedy the weaknesses that were evident with the glaring failure of emergency communication systems during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This slight increase is far from what SAFECOM (a communications program within the OIC), with only four to seven full-time employees, needs to accelerate the standards and development of interoperable communications equipment.”

Bradley also stressed the need for strengthening standards and training.

“The federal government should continue to promote the use of SAFECOM’s Statement of Requirements for interoperability, mandating it to receive federal grants for communication equipment within states,” said Bradley. “Grants for communication equipment should be granted based on regional standardization, so that recipients purchasing communication equipment don’t become stand-alone agencies.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, ranking member of the full committee and a volunteer firefighter for 20 years, pledged his support to working to find a way to improve communications interoperability.

“As a former firefighter I can personally attest to how important communications are to first responders during emergencies,” said Thompson. “It can mean the difference between life and death. The ultimate goal is to produce clear legislation that expedites and facilitates the delivery of emergency communication systems to those who need it most.

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