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Congress & Public Safety Communications

Federal and State officials have been working since 9-eleven to upgrade the technology supporting public safety communications - their efforts are on the verge of paying off, as we hear in this report from Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas.

New York is home to more than 2,300 police and fire departments that cannot all communicate with each other effectively during times of emergency -  police in one town might be using a different radio system than sheriff's deputies in the same vicinity, making it difficult to co-ordinate things like rescue efforts, crime prevention and traffic control. The difficulty was underscored in New York City on 911, when emergency responders in the same metro area couldn't talk to one another via radio, at a time when information exchange was top priority.

Congress has approved 7-billion dollars in funding and the re-allocation of a band of radio frequencies to overcome communication problems and create a national public safety network whose affiliates will be able to instantly exchange voice and data, enhancing response times. Tim Bachman is the Regional Director of Emergency Services at the American Red Cross, serving 17 counties from Clinton and Franklin in the North Country to Ulster and Dutchess in the Hudson Valley.

Throughout New York State, police and fire departments are being urged to file their applications as soon as possible for a new round of federal FEMA grants - money that can be used for communications technology - there's a small window between now and early July to submit the paperwork. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been pushing for a better emergency radio system for first responders: she is emphasizing the importance of obtaining those grants, especially with local funding sources drying up.

Advocates for a national network agree that a centralized approach ensures interoperability.  Gillibrand stresses the importance of keeping America's network of first responders on the cutting edge of new technology, and vows to earmark about 810-million dollars in federal funding to support emergency service providers.   Federal plans entail the launching of a new independent authority, designated as "FirstNet" - by the end of August. The project to be overseen by the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration.





Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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