Like all Americans, I will never forget where I was the morning of the 9/11 attacks. I was traveling with my husband when I received the call from my mother that would change my life. I was living in New York City at the time, so when I heard the news, I was overwhelmed with horror, trepidation and extreme anxiety for friends and loved ones in harm’s way.
As I reflect on that terrible day 10 years later, the overwhelming images that stay with me are the amazing acts of heroism and selflessness we saw that absolutely define us as a nation-ordinary Americans who didn’t need to be asked to commit extraordinary acts. They ran up those towers as everyone else was running down to search for survivors and save lives, spending countless hours in the piles of rubble in the days that followed, recovering those we had lost.
They came to America’s rescue in our greatest hour of need. As a result, tens of thousands of these heroes became sick and are now literally dying from the toxins they inhaled at Ground Zero.
That’s why, in my first two years in the Senate, I was so passionate about fulfilling our moral obligation to the heroes of 9/11, providing them with the proper health care and compensation they need. It was with great pride that I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our first responders and community survivors, and my colleagues Sen. Charles Schumer, Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Peter King and the entire New York congressional delegation to ensure that Congress remembered their sacrifice and stood by its heroes. And it is with great sadness we remember today the heroes we have lost and those we will lose in the future from the toxic brew at Ground Zero.
Now as we approach the 10th anniversary of the atrocity of 9/11 that left us with so much uncertainty, one thing is clear: We must continue to stand by our first responders and provide them with the latest tools and resources needed to handle a major national emergency and save lives. It baffles me that nearly 10 years later, one of the key recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report has yet to be implemented.
The committee identified insufficient interoperability between communications systems used by first responders during the attacks and rescue efforts at Ground Zero as a major issue that needed to be addressed. Firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and other public safety professionals currently communicate on different frequencies and with different systems, creating barriers to providing a coordinated and efficient response during an emergency situation.
The solution to this national security problem hasn’t languished due to a lack of technological know-how. The technology exists today. It has languished due to a lack of political will. Congress cannot afford to wait another day to implement commonsense legislation that would enable all of our emergency responders to communicate with each other in real time during a national crisis. There is no higher priority than the security of our families and communities.
It is simply not good enough when, as New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in his testimony in Washington, “a 16-year-old with a smart phone has a more advanced communications capability than a police officer or deputy carrying a radio.”
It is time to bring first responder technology into the 21st century. We should not wait another single day to pass this strong, commonsense, bipartisan legislation, which has the enthusiastic support of law enforcement officials across the country. It works by providing our first responders and public safety officials with the critical interoperable radio airwaves needed to effectively communicate in the event a major response is needed.
The legislation creates the framework for the deployment of a nationwide, interoperable, wireless broadband network for public safety by allocating 10 megahertz of spectrum, known as the “D-block,” to public safety. This nationwide interoperable broadband network would finally enable first responders to communicate across jurisdictions and share critical data such as video feeds and up-to-date information in real-time, making complex operations easier and safer.
The “D-block” would arm our men and women on the ground with the technology needed to share and disseminate information quickly and seamlessly, including receiving background checks, fingerprints, photos and videos instantly.
Firefighters would be able to receive high speed file downloads, including floor plans for a burning building.
Police officers could use a handheld device to look up outstanding warrants before arriving at a location. EMS workers could exchange diagnostic information about a victim with doctors while en route to the hospital. At a time when Congress is rightly concerned with cutting spending, this legislation pays for itself by generating the necessary revenue to pay for the development and deployment of this network. In fact, it even reduces the deficit by $6.5 billion. And it does not place any burdensome requirements on public safety entities to return the spectrum that they currently use.
Just as we did with the 9/11 health bill for our heroes, Congress must and can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to pass this legislation. And we should do it now so our heroes have the best technology available when duty calls.
Kirsten Gillibrand is the junior senator from the state of New York. She was the lead Senate sponsor of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama earlier this year.