Skip to main content

tv   The Communicators  CSPAN  September 10, 2011 6:30pm-7:00pm EDT

6:30 pm
since 9/11 and what they see as remaining shortcomings in emergency communications. >> one of the major policy issues that came out of 9/11 was the clincher opera ability or lack thereof of emergency communications. that was our -- that is our topic this week on "the communicators." jack brown is the director of emergency management services in arlington county, virginia. tell us first of all your experience on 9/11 and then the ability of your emergency communications. >> on 9/11, i was the assistant fire rescue chief in loudon county, virginia. i have returned about five years earlier from fairfax county, where i spent almost 30 years in the fire rescue department there. and 9/11, all the area of fire and rescue departments participated in one way or
6:31 pm
another at the events at the pentagon, either by responding to the scene at the request of the arlington fire department or in filling in at their stations. early in the afternoon on 9/11, a crew of firefighters and myself were assigned to one of the arlington fire stations and we were subsequently asked to come down to the incident site and work for assistant chief schwartz at the time, now or fire chief. i became a planning section chief working for cheap schwartz, developing plans and working with logistics and doing a lot of these work that needed to be done. >> as 9/11 wasn't folded, particularly at the pentagon, what was the ability of the loudon county fire department to communicate with each other? >> between fire and rescue, it was not as difficult for us in
6:32 pm
arlington county. we brought a cache of radios down to the site and passed them out, but it certainly was a challenge for some of the other departments that responded to the scene. >> has improved in the past decade? >> i would say overall it has improved for far in rescue. we are all on the same 800 mhz frequency. we can communicate much better than we could on 9/11. a lot of our protocols, the way we fight fires for example and handle certain incidents. the fire rescue departments are operating the same way. >> also it joining us is harlin mcewen. how would you describe the status of emergency communications in the u.s. today? >> if we want to start with
6:33 pm
9/11, it was not as good as it is today. things have improved in the last 10 years fairly significantly. the issue of interoperability, it was not something that all of a sudden came up on 911. 9/11 really put a focus on it. people started to realize it was a serious problem and needed to be addressed. i think significant improvement has been made in the last 10 years. >> the report of the 9/11 commission came out just recently, and one of the original things they wanted to have done was to improve the
6:34 pm
interoperability, it was a critical failure on 9/11. today, their recommendation continues to languish. they go on to say that we support the immediate allocation of the d-block spectrum to public safety and the construction of a nationwide fraud when the broadband network. do you agree with that achieve? >> absolutely. that has been our goal for a long time. we have been developing plans for that for many, many years. actually starting before 9/11, as i said, but we were very encouraged when the 9/11 committee recommended that back in the original report. what is disappointing is that today, six or seven years after the report and 10 years after the terrible events of 9/11, the
6:35 pm
congress is still waiting to act on that issue, and that is very disappointing. >> the republican congress, the energy and commerce committee has passed a bill promoting spectrum auction, but it does not include a d-block. >> i am not quite sure what you said is correct they are addressing the issue of spectrum auctions and the whole thing, but unfortunately the majority of the committee at the moment are not in favor of allocating the d-block to public safety. the republican minority has supported that. i think the more encouraging action is taking place in the senate where a bipartisan support from senator rockefeller and senator hutcheson, a bill
6:36 pm
actually proposes a solution that we strongly support. >> jack brown, do you agree with the necessity of the d-block? >> yes, i do. our biggest concern and public safety is reliability. we just feel the public safety committees should have control over the d-block and be able to set it up and not necessarily have to depend on outside carriers. >> also joining us this tim sparks, homeland security reporter for congressional quarterly. >> looking at how long this has seemingly taken, everybody seems to think it is a good idea to have interoperability in communications. what are the obstacles? what are the problems? why hasn't this happened yet? but i will tell you my view. that is that there are people who believe that there are different ways of approaching
6:37 pm
this solution that the way that public sector believes. we have growing bipartisan support, both in the house and the senate to support what we believe is the right solution, and that is basically a language that is then sent at 911. at the same time, it is an unusual -- it is not unusual in congress for people to have their own opinions and believe they know better than the people who are affected. i cannot tell you exactly why they are not supporting it, but it is disappointing, to say the least. >> you have any cause for optimism that this is something that can be resolved, and if so, why? >> i have a lot of optimism. if i did not, i would not have stayed with this for as many years as i have. i am approaching a full -- for retirement place in my life, and
6:38 pm
i am a state with the bid because up till i have had a central role in all the discussions from the beginning. i am optimistic. we were disappointed that the senate bill did not get moved onto the floor, but the deficit discussions the past few months have really taken over everything. it was a little bit alarming to us because if you look at what came up, it became a partisan issue, and that was something we did not like. we would rather have zero parties looking at this objectively and working with us to solve the problem. >> talk about the practical effects of not having this legislation. there has been discussion about the importance of data interoperability, which has not
6:39 pm
been discussed. >> it is much more than just voice communications. the data is so critically important. our police departments need to be able communicate amongst each other information about suspect that all those things and that does take up a lot of room on the spectrum. fire and rescue departments depend on it also for transmittal of emergency medical information to hospitals and doctors. it is all vitally important to us. i can just go back to the recent earthquake we had last week. our communications systems, the phones and cell phones were all down for at least an hour before our communications system started going up. and we do use cell phones. our radios and cell phones and other mediums are not always .nteroperabilitle
6:40 pm
>> why did the cell phones godown? >> the system was just overloaded. >> what was your experience with the earthquake in arlington county? how did you communicate with your various emergency services? >> actually, we did it by radio. my emergency communications commander got through to me within the first minute or two on my cell phone. we communicated and i had to actually go back to my office in my car, but by the time i was in my vehicle, there was a communications channel set up. so we continue to communicate, but the device that we used a today just was not working for us. >> given that this is a multi jurisdictional area, chances are you probably want to communicate
6:41 pm
with alexandria or washington, d.c. or fairfax. were you able to do that as well? >> absolutely. we have a phone system called the washington area warning alert system. it is a secure system where you basically patella on and it -- it basically pick up a telephone and you can speak to all the national been jurisdictions including the federal government. so we do that. we have automated systems. we have a web based program that we used to enter data and make resources requests. so we do have other methods other than typical telephones. we also have ham radio operators. if everything goes down, i have these great amateur radio folks to come in an exercise all the
6:42 pm
time. they love doing what they do, and we just love having them. >> given all those different systems, why is a d-block dedicated to public safety necessary? >> that is the hard primary system, and i think we need it for our use. the other systems of talking about are really support systems, if you will. we don't want to have to depend on ham radio operators for our primary communications, but if we have to, we will. we need a good, reliable system day today. >> harlin mcewen, is this different than it was 10 years ago? is it enough? >> to go back to your question a moment ago, there are two different approaches here. what jack is talking about is the voice mission critical systems that are primarily voice systems. they don't have the bandwidth to do the data. in other words, stuff that you
6:43 pm
do routinely on a smart phone or your internet connection or whatever, you cannot do that on the systems. that are focused on mission critical voice. what we are trying to do is go to the next generation of communication devices that are more like smart phones and things of that nature and have our own reliable spectrum. that is why the d-block is so critical. if we have our own spectrum, then when these commercial networks get overloaded, what happens is that we have our own dedicated spectrum where the public is not overloading them. we use it strictly for our purposes. you have to understand the difference of the two approaches. somewhere down the road, many years to come, there probably will be a convergence of those two systems, but that is not yet on the drawing board. >> secretary janet napolitano
6:44 pm
recently said there was an exercise not long ago, 16 major cities, and there was really good interoperability in that scenario. however progress been made without legislation? has there been coordination? >> a lot of money has been dedicated by the federal government over the last 10 or 15 years to improving interoperability, and that has been a very positive success, really. it is just the fact that it is moving target. you'll never really solved the total problem because of new equipment coming on line, new technologies that are not compatible with the old stuff. there is always going to be somewhat of a moving target, but the fact is that all the grants for the last 10 years have required a significant advancement towards interoperability.
6:45 pm
you just cannot buy a new radio or a new system without showing that while you are doing that, you are also moving towards improving the problem. that is a sin -- very significant, good thing. >> with the concerns about government spending, one of the areas congress has begun to cut back on its state and local programs. how much does that affect things now and how much could it affect things in the future as far as being able to keep moving this forward? >> it will have a big negative impact. it takes significant, ongoing, sustaining funding to be able to keep public safety communications operable and interoperable. we have to tell them look, this is the responsibility for all
6:46 pm
levels of government. federal governments have a big role in funding a lot of this, but it is a state and local responsibility. everybody has to be part of the solution. if they start cutting back on these things, which we understand in economic, troubling times, it will have a significant negative impact. >> what is your budget in arlington county virginia for communications every year, and how much of that comes from the federal government? >> it is about $6 million for my emergency communications center, however, we do depend on the federal government. it is split between maryland, virginia, and washington d.c. i cannot stress enough that reduction or elimination of urban area security initiatives will have a very negative
6:47 pm
impact on moving any of these programs for. it is not just about radios. it is about detection equipment, biological, chemical, radiological detection equipment. it is about law enforcement network exchange, personal protective equipment for firefighters and paramedics, planning, training, and exercises. those types of things that have actually been enhanced to a tremendous degree since 9/11. our fear is some of those programs may suffer or have to be absorbed by it localities. i understand that when we first started with the urban areas security initiative, the intention was this would be seed money in states and localities that would ultimately absorbed these programs. however, with the downturn in the economy, states and localities are just not able to do that.
6:48 pm
>> this week we are looking at emergency communications 10 years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. here is just a little bit about our guests. jack brown is the director of the office of emergency management in arlington county, virginia, right across the river from washington d.c. he also worked on hurricane katrina and served in operation iraqi freedom in baghdad, where he got the bronze star. he has been dispatched to places such as taiwan or kenya in response to disasters there. harlin mcewen is retired from the fbi, where he served as deputy assistant director of the fbi, where he oversaw the fbi of the criminal justice information services such as the national crime information center and the integrated fingerprint identification system. he served as chief of police in
6:49 pm
ithaca, new york. he began his career as a patrol officer. tim sparks is a richly from evansville, ill.. he works for congressional quarterly. >> one of reasons it has been difficult for congress to look at cutting homeland security grant is because police and firefighters and rescue personnel are powerful constituency in the image they present. the idea of saying no to them seems ridiculous at times. it seems like it would be bad for them politically. the wireless carriers have their own political weight to bring to bear. how much in this spectrum debate are they allies and how much are they the enemy? >> i think some of each. some of the major carriers are very supportive of our efforts because they have a vision
6:50 pm
where it would be beneficial to the public safety community and to their business interests for us to partner with them at some point to build out this nationwide network. those that have that vision, we are very pleased with that. unfortunately, there are some that commercial world that are looking at its were selfishly, to deal with their particular needs as a company. where that happens, that is disappointing to us. i think we have more support than we have detractors. that is very helpful. >> i would never considered any of the public safety communications carriers as enemies. we are all partners. we may have differing views have to get someplace, and that might have some different motives, but at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.
6:51 pm
we all want good, reliable communications. >> when you hear some folks talk about let's increase the efficiency of spectrum use and perhaps use the white spaces in between the different areas, what is your reaction to that? >> it is an interesting idea. certainly those white spaces can be used more efficiently than they are being used now. the question for public safety is, is it as a place for us to go? we have always been more comfortable with the idea of allocation of spectrum that is our spectrum, that other people cannot use. the idea of white space technology, we would rather see that used for the public good and let us continue to manage your own spectrum.
6:52 pm
>> back to the grants for a moment, there was a story recently about how the money is being spent. how would respond to the idea that is not being spent wisely? how are you making sure the money is used well because it is an important part of whether they are going to cut grants or not. >> that the national level, we don't have any control over that period for the most part, what we have observed is that most of the money has been spent well. it has resulted in a good use. the problem is that there is not any kind of program that at some point does not have some abuse, some mismanagement. of course what happens is when you have that, it is disappointing to us and makes us look like we don't know what we are doing. it is disappointing, but
6:53 pm
overall, the majority of the money has been spent well and has given us a good result. >> when we spend the public's money, there is a system, a process that we have to go through, especially with grant funds. the moneys are actually at the -- allocated to the states. we don't just get a check from the federal government. we have to meet the criteria noted in the project management plan and the grant. we fail to meet that, then the locality or state has to absorb that cost. there is a system of checks and balances their to at least prevent wasteful spending. >> any estimate of how much has been spent in the past 10 years on improving emergency communications? >> that is somewhat debatable. there are people who have put all the money that has been spent on various kinds of programs together.
6:54 pm
generally speaking, we believe that somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion to $10 billion has been allocated by the federal government and for the most part has been spent well. unfortunately, there are people on the hill in recent comments who say it is much more than that, and we find that very disappointing, because we do not believe that is true. >> this goes to the emergency communications question. whether the reaction in washington d.c. during the earthquake was we could not use a yourself on. i am wondering how much you spend on communicating with the public and those kinds of things. >> we spend a tremendous amount of time and money communicating with the public. that is our main objective, to communicate with the public.
6:55 pm
we are not the police officers or the fire department. we are more the facilitators or coordinated. the public does not care that i had my emergency operations center open. what they want is information. in arlington county we have an outdoor warning system. we have an atm radio station. we have what is called arlington alert, a messaging system that goes out the at e-mail, cell phone, and pager. we are pushing out the information. we are also using social media, twitter and facebook, to get information back. folks in my office are able to get the information coming from the community and communicate back, especially during the earthquake and hurricane. it was nice to get feedback. they were beating us information about downed power lines and trees and things like that could before, they would have had to
6:56 pm
call our communications center, which could be overloaded with phone calls, or the emergency line, which can get jammed up. >> senator lieberman was concerned about how well the actual disaster communication networks that were set up between the agencies worked, not just for the earthquake but for hurricane irene. >> the system we had in use, which was our web based program , our washington area warning alert system, our radios and phones, worked fine during the hurricane. we had no issues with that. in the washington metropolitan area, i do realize that dc and some communities in maryland suffered a lot of damage, bud in
6:57 pm
northern virginia, we did not get near the damage from the hurricane that other localities did. we communicated just fine. >> 10 years ago was 9/11. jack brown, if such an event occurred again today on your watch, how would the communication systems be different? >> we would certainly communicate to the public what they need to do. that is what they are looking to us to do, is provide them with information on how they can stay safe and keep their families safe. the message we tried to get across every day is to be prepared. make sure that you have supplies, food, water, medicine, and other necessities, to stay home, stay put, stay at your office for a least three days. one of the challenges on 9/11 is the area was trying to evacuate. we don't do that very well during rush hour.
6:58 pm
a massive evacuation of washington, d.c. is very problematic. we need to change the mindset of the community. you really need to take care of yourselves and your families. make sure you have those plans. make sure you have faith that your schools are going to keep your kids say, and understand that something like a terrorist attack, those schools could potentially be locked down and you could not get to them. not to mention, we don't want people out there on the highways in beating the first responders and supplies coming into emergency sites. >> cheek harlin mcewen, if that were to happen again today, are we prepared? are different cities prepared at different levels? >> there is no question that different cities have different levels of preparedness, but again, i have to continue to say we are far better off today than we were 10 years ago.
6:59 pm
but we have this goal of dramatically improving communications, and the additional spectrum is a focal point of that. we think that is something that congress really needs to address. >> final question, tim sparks. >> we hope the public will realize how important this is an convey to their elected representatives that this is something they want to get done. >> harlin mcewen of the international association of chiefs of police, jack brown of the arlington county office of emergency management, and tim sparks of congressional quarterly. gentlemen, thank you for being on "the communicators." >> thank you. >> tomorrow, the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. live coverage from each of t


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on