WASHINGTON, DC– Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Joseph Lieberman, have introduced legislation to help ensure that our nations first responders have the most-up-to-date communications systems possible with the ability to communicate with one another during emergencies. The bill would provide $400 million in grant dollars to states and communities to assist in the sustainability and compatibility of communications systems. The bill is expected to be considered by the Committee at a business meeting on Thursday.
“One of the many lessons we can take from the Hurricane Katrina disaster is that many communities throughout the nation still do not have the communications infrastructure in place for first responders to communicate with one another during an emergency. We have heard from community leaders throughout the nation that this is a major concern, which should be immediately addressed. Our legislation builds on work that we have done in the past on this matter. It will help ensure that our first responders have effective and interoperable communications systems, which are critical during any emergency,” said Senators Collins and Lieberman.
The Senators, who coauthored the intelligence reform legislation last year, pointed out that the 9/11 Commission report cited the inability of emergency responders to communicate with one another as a serious problem. Four years later, and following the worst natural disaster in our nation’s history, communications among emergency responders still have proven to be a problem.
The “Assure Emergency and Interoperable Communications for First Responders Act of 2005,” or EICOM Act, would provide $400 million in grants to state and local communities. The grant dollars would provide dedicated funding, strengthen federal leadership, fortify outreach and technical assistance to state and local first responders, promote greater regional cooperation, and ensure research and development on interoperability issues so that police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers can talk to one another across jurisdictional, departmental, and geographic boundaries. It also directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a comprehensive, competitive research and development program, and it calls for two pilot projects to help develop and test communications systems for first responders.