This afternoon, Chris Lombard, Deputy Chief of Deputy Fire Chief of the Seattle (Washington) Fire Department and Acting Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ (IAFC) Communications Committee, testified at a hearing held by the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. The hearing was entitled “20 Years After 9/11: Examining Emergency Communications” and focused on the challenges facing public safety communications on 9/11, the advances made since then, and the remaining communications needs of public safety.
At the hearing, Chief Lombard spoke of his experience at Ground Zero and how public safety communications in 2001 severely lacked interoperability or the spectrum necessary to operate in an attack of that scale. Lombard also spoke about the advances in emergency communication that have been made since 9/11 and declared that “SAFECOM and FirstNet are two triumphs that emerged from the 9/11 Commission Report’s recommendations for improved interoperability.”
Chief Lombard explained how FirstNet “enables first responders to communicate within and across jurisdictions; provides redundancy to ensure network resilience; and prevents congestion-related network jamming.” And how FirstNet enables “first responders have national priority and preemption on dedicated public safety spectrum.”
Chief Lombard, who is also the First Vice Chairman of SAFECOM, explained how SAFECOM “trains first responders to be emergency communications unit leaders; coordinates grant guidance, and encourages interoperability.” Lombard urged Congress to continue to support both FirstNet and SAFECOM.
Chief Lombard also explained how funding provided by the State Homeland Security Program, Urban Areas Security Initiative, Assistance to Firefighters Grant, and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants have “done a great deal to improve first responder communications through funding, training, information sharing efforts, and equipment.” Lombard urged Congress to continue to fund these vital grant programs fully.
In addition to speaking about the advances made in emergency communications, Chief Lombard also addressed its remaining challenges and needs. Lombard spoke of “the need for 9-1-1 infrastructure to catch up with other commercially-available telecommunications technology.” Lombard urged Congress to “enact legislation funding a $15 billion Next Generation 9-1-1 upgrade via the reconciliation package.”
Lombard also spoke of the critical importance of having enough spectrum available for public safety operations. Lombard expressed the IAFC’s support for the FCC’s September 30 decision to rescind the framework of state licenses for the 4.9 GHz spectrum that it adopted in October 2020. Lombard also stressed the need to prevent interference on public safety transmissions on the 6 GHz spectrum and urged Congress to monitor these proceedings to protect critical public safety communications on the 4.9 and 6 GHz spectrum.
The IAFC is grateful to have had the opportunity to have Chief Lombard as a witness for this hearing. We look forward to continuing to work with the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness Response and Recovery to address the communications needs of public safety.
Read the IAFC full testimony (pdf).