Washington, DC – Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today joined Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) in introducing legislation to improve communication technology for first responders. The Improve Interoperable Communications for First Responders Act will also help to ensure that police, firefighters, emergency medical crews, and other first responders can communicate amongst each other and with emergency response agencies in various levels of government. Senator Collins is the Chairman and Senator Lieberman is the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“One of the most persistent messages that I hear from Maine’s first responders is strong concern about the lack of compatibility in communications equipment. It remains a substantial impediment to their ability to respond effectively in the event of a terrorist attack,” said Senator Collins. “For a State like Maine that has the largest port by tonnage in New England, two international airports, key defense installations, hundreds of miles of coastline, and a long international border, compatible communications equipment is essential.”

According to the 9/11 Commission Report, interoperability – the ability for emergency responders to communicate with one another during an incident – was a serious problem on 9/11. In addition, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on interoperable communications released in June 2004 notes that the lives of first responders and those they are trying to assist can be lost when first responders cannot communicate effectively.

“Police, firefighters, emergency medical crews and other first responders need to be able to communicate with each other, particularly during mass emergencies, to coordinate operations and to help keep others and themselves safe,” said Senator Collins. “From computer systems to emergency radios, the technology that should allow first responders to communicate with each other too often is silenced by incompatibility. This legislation will help break down that barrier.”

The Lieberman-Collins legislation authorizes a total of $3.3 billion over a 5-year period for grants dedicated to achieving communications interoperability. The grant program guarantees every state a share of interoperability funding and makes additional funding available for states with special needs and vulnerabilities. “It is designed to get this vital funding to first responders quickly, in coordination with a statewide plan,” said Senator Collins.

The National Governors Association recently released a survey of state and territorial homeland security advisors to determine their top 10 priorities and challenges facing states in the future. The number one priority was achieving interoperability in communications.