Emergency Communications Legislation: Implications for the 110th Congress
Emergency Communications Legislation:
Implications for the 110 Congress
Updated September 15, 2008
Linda K. Moore
Analyst in Telecommunications and Technology Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Emergency Communications Legislation:
Implications for the 110th Congress
Since September 11, 2001, several bills introduced in the U.S. Congress have
included provisions to assist emergency communications. Key provisions from a
number of these bills have become law.
Legislation addressing communications among first responders focused first on
interoperability — the capability of different systems to connect — with provisions
in the Homeland Security Act (P.L. 107-296). The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act (P.L. 108-458) provided more comprehensive language that included
requirements for developing a national approach to achieving interoperability. Some
of the legislative requirements were based on recommendations made by the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission). Also
in response to a 9/11 Commission recommendation regarding the availability of
spectrum for radio operations, Congress set a date to release needed radio frequency
spectrum by early 2009, as part of the Deficit Reduction Act (P.L. 109-171). The act
also provided funding for public safety and for the improvement of 911 systems
through a Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund. In a section of the
Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Subtitle D),
Congress revisited the needs of an effective communications capacity for first
responders and other emergency personnel and expanded the provisions of P.L. 108-
incorporated in the Port Security Improvement Act (P.L. 109-347).
In the 110th Congress, the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11
Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53) was passed in the 1st Session. Sections in the
act modified and expanded provisions for emergency communications passed in P.L.
S. 74 (Senator Schumer), to ensure adequate funding for high-threat areas; S. 345
(Senator Biden), that would provide funding and includes a requirement for the
immediate release of spectrum for public safety use, now scheduled for 2009; S. 3465
(Senator Wicker), to create a First Responders Interoperable Device Availability
Trust Fund that would provide grants to purchase interoperable radios for the new
public safety network proposed for some of the spectrum made available by the
transition to digital TV; H.R. 3116 (Representative Stupak), creating a Public Safety
Communications Trust Fund to receive, among other sources of funding, the
uncommitted balance remaining in the Digital Television Transition and Public
Safety Fund; and H.R. 130, a funding bill for first responders (Representative
Frelinghuysen), with a provision that would require the Department of Homeland
Security to conduct a study evaluating the need to assign additional spectrum for use
by public safety. The bills that carry provisions regarding spectrum are referring, for
the most part, to licenses at 700 MHz that were auctioned in January-March 2008;
some of the licenses have been assigned to public safety. The proceeds from the
auction are to be deposited in the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety
Fund, from which mandated disbursements will be made by the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The auction grossed
approximately $19.6 billion.
Introduction: Policy and Technological Convergence......................1
First Responders and Emergency Communications.......................2
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 and Actions by the Department......3
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act....................3
The Deficit Reduction Act.......................................6
Further Actions Regarding the Deficit Reduction Act: Spectrum
Assignment for Public Safety................................7
Further Actions Regarding the Deficit Reduction Act:
Memorandum of Understanding for Communications
Grants and Subsequent Modifications..........................8
The Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007....................9
9/11 Commission Recommendations.............................12
Actions in the 110th Congress...................................12
National Emergency Communications Plan........................13
Emergency Communications Legislation:
Implications for the 110 Congress
Introduction: Policy and Technological
Members of the 2nd Session of the 110th Congress who support sustaining and
improving emergency communications have a body of recent legislation on which to
build. Since September 11, 2001, successive Congresses have passed legislation
regarding technology, funding, spectrum access and other areas critical to emergency
communications. These new laws have tended to address specific issues, dealing
separately, for example, with interoperability for first responders, improvements in
emergency alerts, and 911 call centers. When reviewing emergency communications
legislation, whether for oversight or new initiatives, Congress may review the pace
of technological convergence and its impact on policies for emergency
communications. What once were discrete areas of emergency response are
increasingly sharing common technologies. First responders and other emergency
workers not only have access to better tools, but also — by adopting new
technologies — find themselves confronted with the need to rethink their internal
organizational structure and the ways that they communicate with external groups.
Most emergency communications in use today have been built on core
technologies such as two-way radio for emergency responders, telephone line
switches for 911 calls, and broadcasting for emergency alerts. Operated
independently of each other, these three pillars of emergency response have
developed along separate technology tracks. Advances in information technology —
and particularly the ubiquity of the Internet — have laid the groundwork for
connecting the functions of communications for emergency responders, 911 call
centers, and public alerts. For example: digital broadcasting used for emergency
alerts can also be used to deliver information to emergency responders; the use of
Internet Protocols (IP) provides a standard for network inter-connectivity;
interoperable radio networks used by first responders can open a channel for real-
time participation by operators in 911 call centers; these same call centers can be
used to generate local alerts, over all types of communications media, to virtually any1
enabled device. Developing communications technologies with common elements
provide synergies that benefit both provider and user.
1 For details on emergency call centers and legislation in the 110th Congress, see CRS Report
RL32939, An Emergency Communications Safety Net: Integrating 911 and Other Services;
emergency alerts are covered in CRS Report RL32527, The Emergency Alert System (EAS)
and All-Hazard Warnings, both by Linda K. Moore.
Federal policy and congressional action tend to treat these three important areas
of emergency communications through different agencies and different committees.
Some observers cite cross-agency coordination at the federal level and cross-
jurisdiction cooperation at the congressional level as areas where rapprochement
could facilitate homeland security. Because the preponderance of incidents involving
emergency workers occurs at the local level, local, state and regional participation
and coordination are included in federal solutions. Encouraging the right balance of
cooperative policy and federal leadership — to support both daily operations and
national response in catastrophic situations — is one of the goals of Congress.
Through legislation, Congress has proposed methods for blending the use of
advanced technology with the changes in organization that shifts in technology tend
to foster. In time, the convergence of communications technology may lead to new
approaches in policy-making and oversight based on a recognition that both function
and technology are interconnected.
First Responders and Emergency Communications
Congressional interest in the federal government’s support of interoperable
emergency communications capability has increased since September 11, 2001.
Chaotic situations at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center were exacerbated by
inadequate communications support for local, state, and federal responders at the
sites. Radio communications systems, in particular, were not interoperable,
hampering coordination of rescue efforts. The different types of technology,
operating on different radio frequencies, could not interface with each other.2
Congress first addressed interoperability in the Homeland Security Act of 2002
(P.L. 107-296). Then, responding to recommendations of the National Commission
on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), Congress included
a section in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-
458) that expanded its requirements for action in improving interoperability and
public safety communications. Also in response to a recommendation by the 9/11
Commission, Congress set a firm deadline for the release of radio frequency
spectrum needed for public safety radios as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005
(P.L. 109-171). These laws provide the base from which the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) can develop a national public safety communications
capability as required by the Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (P.L. 109-st
295). Title VI, Subtitle D of the act, cited as the 21 Century Emergency
Communications Act of 2006, placed new requirements on DHS as well as
reaffirming key passages in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
The act created the position of Director of Emergency Communications within the
Department of Homeland Security.
2 The chaos at both sites of the attacks is described in several sections of The 9/11
Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States, The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States,
Washington: GPO, 2004.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 and Actions by the
Provisions of the Homeland Security Act instructed DHS to address some of the
issues concerning public safety communications in emergency preparedness and
response and in providing critical infrastructure. Telecommunications for first
responders is mentioned in several sections, with specific emphasis on technology3
The newly created DHS placed responsibility for interoperable communications
within the Directorate for Science and Technology, reasoning that the focus of DHS
efforts would be on standards and on encouraging research and development for
communications technology. Responsibility to coordinate and rationalize federal
networks, and to support interoperability, had previously been assigned to the
Wireless Public SAFEty Interoperable COMmunications Program — called Project
SAFECOM — by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as an e-government
initiative. With the support of the Administration, SAFECOM was placed in the
Science and Technology directorate and became the lead agency for coordinating
federal programs for interoperability.4 The Secretary of Homeland Security assigned
the responsibility of preparing a national strategy for communications interoperability
to the Office of Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC), which DHS created, an
organizational move that was later ratified by Congress in the Intelligence Reform
and Terrorism Prevention Act.5 SAFECOM continued to operate as an entity within
the Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, which assumed the leadership role.
The director of SAFECOM was promoted to head the OIC.
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act
Acting on recommendations made by the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), Congress included several
sections regarding improvements in communications capacity — including
clarifications to the Homeland Security Act — in the Intelligence Reform and
Terrorism Prevention Act (P.L. 108-458).
The Commission’s analysis of communications difficulties on September 11,
Congress should support pending legislation which provides for the expedited
and increased assignment of radio spectrum for public safety purposes.
Furthermore, high-risk urban areas such as New York City and Washington,
D.C., should establish signal corps units to ensure communications connectivity
3 Notably, P.L. 107-296, Sec. 201 and Sec. 502.
4 “Homeland Security Starting Over With SAFECOM,” Government Computer News, June
5 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (a) (2).
between and among civilian authorities, local first responders, and the National6
Guard. Federal funding of such units should be given high priority by Congress.
Congress addressed both the context and the specifics of the recommendation
for signal corps. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act amended
the Homeland Security Act to specify that DHS give priority to the rapid
establishment of interoperable capacity in urban and other areas determined to be at
high risk from terrorist attack. The Secretary of Homeland Security was required to
work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Secretary of
Defense, and the appropriate state and local authorities to provide technical guidance,
training, and other assistance as appropriate.7 Minimum capabilities were to be
established for “all levels of government agencies,” first responders, and others,
including the ability to communicate with each other and to have “appropriate and
timely access” to the Information Sharing Environment, an initiative treated
elsewhere in the act.8 The act further required the Secretary of Homeland Security9
to establish at least two pilot programs in high-threat areas. The process of
development for these programs was to contribute to the creation and implementation
of a national model strategic plan; its purpose was to foster interagency
communications at all levels of the response effort.10 Building on the concept of
using the Army Signal Corps as a model, the law directed the Secretary to consult
with the Secretary of Defense in the development of the pilot projects, including11
review of standards, equipment, and protocols.
Congress also raised the bar for performance and accountability. Section 7303
(a) (1) set program goals for the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation
with the Secretary of Commerce and the FCC. Briefly, the goals were to:
!Establish a comprehensive, national approach for achieving
!Coordinate with other federal agencies;
!Develop appropriate minimum capabilities for interoperability;
!Accelerate development of voluntary standards;
!Encourage open architecture and commercial products;
!Assist other agencies with research and development;
!Prioritize, within DHS, research, development, testing and related
!Establish coordinated guidance for federal grant programs;
!Provide technical assistance; and
6 The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11
Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States, (Washington: GPO, 2004), p. 397.
7 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (d), ‘Sec. 510 ‘(a).
8 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (d), ‘Sec. 510 ‘(b).
9 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7304 (a).
10 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7304 (b).
11 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7304 (d).
!Develop and disseminate best practices.
The act included a requirement that any request for funding from DHS for
interoperable communications “for emergency response providers” be accompanied
by an Interoperable Communications Plan, which must be approved by the
Secretary.12 Criteria for the Plan were also provided in the act.13
The act conveyed the sense of Congress that “interoperable emergency
communications systems and radios should continue to be deployed as soon as
practicable for use by the first responder community, and that upgraded and new
digital communications systems and new digital radios must meet prevailing
national, voluntary consensus standards for interoperability.”14
Spectrum allocation, needed for radio communications by first responders and
other emergency workers, is also an important issue. The act required two studies
on spectrum and communication networks for public safety and homeland security,15
to be prepared for Congress by year end 2005.16 The FCC was designated to lead a
study on spectrum needs for emergency response providers. The Secretary of
Homeland Security, with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and
Information Administration (NTIA), was required to prepare a study on strategies to
meet public safety and homeland security needs for first responders and all other
emergency response providers.17
The FCC report was released December 2005. For the study, the FCC sought
comment on whether additional spectrum should be made available for public safety,
possibly from the 700 MHz band. Comments received from the public safety
community overwhelmingly supported the need for additional spectrum, although
other bands besides 700 MHz were also mentioned. The FCC did not make a
specific recommendation for additional spectrum allocations in the short-term
although it stated that it agreed that public safety “could make use of such an
allocation in the long-term to provide broadband services.”18 It qualified this
statement by observing that spectrum is only one factor in assuring access to mobile
broadband services for emergency response. It further announced that it would move
expeditiously to see whether the current band plan for the 24 MHz at 700 MHz
12 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (f).
13 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (f) (1-5).
14 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7303 (I) (2).
15 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle D, Sec. 7502 (a).
16 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle D, Sec. 7502 (d).
17 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle D, Sec. 7502 (b).
18 Report to Congress on the Study to Assess Short-term and Long-term Needs for
Allocations of Additional Portions of the Electromagnetic Spectrum for Federal, State and
Local Emergency Response Providers, Federal Communications Commission, December
(Paragraph 99). Viewed May 15, 2008.
currently designated for public safety could be modified to accommodate broadband
The second required study, to be conducted by DHS in cooperation with the
FCC and the NTIA, has not been released in final form. In addition to the
requirement from Congress, the Secretary of Homeland Security had also been
ordered by a Presidential Executive Memorandum to participate in a national study
of spectrum policy.20 The Presidential Spectrum Policy Initiative planning process
is moving forward under the direction of the NTIA and will apparently incorporate
information intended to meet the congressional study requirement.21
The act also included a sense of Congress provision that the 109th Congress
should pass legislation supporting the Commission’s recommendation to expedite the
release of spectrum.22 This was addressed by the 109th Congress in the Deficit
Reduction Act, discussed below.
The Deficit Reduction Act
The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 required the FCC to allocate 24 MHz of
spectrum at 700 MHz23 to public safety, without providing a hard deadline for the
transfer.24 The channels designated for public safety are among those currently held
by TV broadcasters; they are to be cleared as part of the move from analog to digital
television (DTV). The 9/11 Commission urged that Congress take prompt action to
assure the release of spectrum at 700 MHz — allocated for public safety, but not
released — to support needed interoperable network capability and more robust
19 Ibid., paragraph 100.
20 Presidential Determination: Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and
Agencies, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, November 30, 2004, available
at [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/11/20041130-8.html]. Viewed January
21 See [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/osmhome/spectrumreform/index.html],
[http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2006/specadvisory_110306.pdf] for program
background and status. All viewed May 15, 2008.
22 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle D, Sec. 7502 (a).
23 Radio frequency spectrum is measured in hertz. Radio frequency is the portion of
electromagnetic spectrum that carries radio waves. The distance an energy wave takes to
complete one cycle is its wavelength. Frequency is the number of wavelengths measured
at a given point per unit of time, in cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). Typical designations
are: kHz — kilohertz or thousands of hertz; MHz — megahertz, or millions of hertz; and
GHz — gigahertz, or billions of hertz.
24 47 U.S.C. § 309 (j) (14).
Provisions in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 planned for the release of
spectrum by February 18, 200925 and created a fund to receive spectrum auction
proceeds and disburse designated sums to the Treasury and for other purposes.26 The
fund is to transfer $7.363 billion to the Treasury to reduce the budget deficit as
specified in H.Con.Res. 95.27 Other disbursements from the fund include advances
of up to $1.5 billion to assist consumers with the transition to digital television28 and
a grant program of up to $1 billion for public safety agencies.29 The fund’s
disbursements are to be administered by the NTIA, which was empowered to borrow
funds for communications interoperability grants effective October 1, 2006.30 At the
time, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the grants program for public
safety would receive $100 million in FY2007, $370 million in FY2008, $310 million
in FY2009 and $220 million in FY2010.31 However, the 109th Congress, in its
closing hours, passed a bill with a provision requiring that the grants program receive
“no less than” $1 billion to be awarded “no later than” September 30, 2007.32
Language in Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007
(P.L. 110-53) reaffirms the 2007 fiscal year deadline, but makes changes in the grant
Further Actions Regarding the Deficit Reduction Act:
Spectrum Assignment for Public Safety
The FCC established auction rules that comply with the Deficit Reduction Act
and also provide for a new, interoperable communications network for public safety34
users to be shared with commercial users. A national license for 10 MHz,
designated as Upper Block D, was put up for auction under service rules that required
working with a Public Safety Licensee to build and manage a shared network. The
Public Safety Licensee would be assigned a single, national license for 10 MHz that
is intended to provide the core capacity for public safety users of the new network.
Under the auction rules, there was no winning bidder for the D Block. The FCC is
in the process of reconsidering its options and has issue a Second Further Notice of
25 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3002 (a) (1) (B).
26 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3004 (3) “(E) “(I) and (ii).
27 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3004 (3) “(E) “(iii).
28 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3005 (b).
29 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3006. The provision directed that funds be used to deploy systems on
the 700 MHz spectrum that public safety will receive as part of the transition; the language
was amended in P.L. 110-53 to omit, among other changes, the reference to 700 MHz.
30 P.L. 109-171, Sec. 3006 (b).
31 Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate, S. 1932, Deficit Reduction Act of 2005,
January 27, 2006, p. 21 [http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=7028&sequence=0].
32 P.L. 109-459, Sec. 2 (Call Home Act of 2006, Senator Stevens).
33 P.L. 110-53, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, Title
XXII, Sec. 2201.
34 FCC, Second Report and Order, WT Docket No. 96-86, et al., released August 10, 2007.
proposed Rulemaking,35 in which it solicits comment on a wide variety of options.
A partnership would give public safety communications users access to private-sector
capital and expertise to build the network. Although public safety users would be
charged for access to the network, proponents of the plan argue that overall costs will
be less than if the network were purely for public safety, because of greater
economies of scale.36
Further Actions Regarding the Deficit Reduction Act:
Memorandum of Understanding for Communications Grants
and Subsequent Modifications
In February 2007, the NTIA, designated by Congress to administer the $1 billion
grant program in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security, signed a
memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Office of Grants and Training at37
DHS to administer the expenditure of the designated funds. The MOU includes an
overview of how the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) Grant
Program will be administered. The overview was reiterated and explained in
testimony.38 Both the MOU and the testimony indicate that the priority will be to
fund needs identified through Tactical Interoperable Communications Plans and
Statewide Interoperable Plans developed in conjunction with SAFECOM. In
particular, tactical plans for urban areas are to be supported.
On July 18, 2007, the Secretaries of Commerce and Homeland Security jointly
announced the details of the grants program.39 The grants program, as announced,
is to provide $968,385,000 in funding for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and
U.S. Territories. Seven urban areas which are part of an ongoing Urban Area
Security Initiative are specifically funded. The amounts are subsets of the amount
designated for the state associated with the urban area. The New York City Area, for
example, is slotted to receive $34,812,602, accounting for over half of the
$60,734,783 designated for New York State. The other urban areas are centered on:
San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Newark-Jersey City, NJ; Los
35 FCC, Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, released May 14, 2008, Docket
No. 06-150at [http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-08-128A1.pdf].
36 For a detailed discussion, see CRS Report RL34054, Public-Private Partnership for a
Public Safety Network: Governance and Policy, by Linda K. Moore.
37 MOU at [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/otiahome/psic/PSICMOU_Executed_2-16-2007.pdf].
Viewed May 7, 2008.
38 Testimony of Corey Gruber, Acting Assistant Secretary for Grants and Planning, Office
of Grants and Training, Department of Homeland Security at hearing on “Public Safety
Interoperable Communications Grants: Are the Departments of Homeland Security and
Commerce Effectively Coordinating to Meet our Nation’s Emergency Communications
Needs?” House of Representatives, Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on
Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response, March 14, 2007.
39 Press releases at [http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1184783934669.shtm] and
[http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2007/PSIC_071807.pdf]. Both viewed May 16,
Angeles-Long Beach, CA; and Washington, DC.40 The announcement of the top-
level, statewide allocations meets the September 30 deadline set by Congress. The
states, however, have additional time to submit their detailed requests, and will
receive funds through FY2010.41
The funding program has been modified slightly to conform to provisions
established in P.L. 110-53. In addition, states will have to reappraise their plans for
grant requests to meet the new guidelines established by the law. One of the most
significant changes has been to provide for grants for strategic technology reserves
for communications in an emergency. The $75 million for strategic reserves required
by the new law will be distributed among the recipients in proportion to the funds
already set aside.42
The Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007
The destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August-September
interchangeable communications systems for public safety and also revealed the
potential weaknesses in existing systems to withstand or recover from catastrophic
events. Testimony at numerous hearings following the hurricanes suggested that
DHS was responding minimally to congressional mandates for action, most notably
as expressed in the language of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention
Act. Bills subsequently introduced in both the House and the Senate proposed
strengthening emergency communications leadership and expanding the scope of the
efforts for improvement.43 Some of these proposals were included in Title VI of the
Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007 (P.L. 109-295). Title VI — the Post-
Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 — reorganized the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), gave the agency new powers, and
clarified its functions and authorities within DHS.44
Subtitle D — the 21st Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006 —
created an Office of Emergency Communications and the position of Director,
40 See [http://www.dhs.gov/xgovt/grants/gc_1184774852768.shtm]. The NTIA website
main page has a section devoted to PSIC at [http://www.ntia.doc.gov]. Both viewed May 16,
41 For details, see [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/psic/awards.html]. Viewed May 16, 2008.
42 NTIA, Public Safety Interoperable Communications Grant Program, Modifications Based
on P.L. 110-53, at [http://www.ntia.doc.gov/psic/modifications_081607.html]. Viewed May
43 A discussion of key bills introduced during the 109th Congress regarding public safety
communications appears in CRS Report RL32594, Public Safety Communications Policy,
by Linda K. Moore.
44 Information on the FEMA reorganization is provided in CRS Report RL33729, Federal
Emergency Management Policy Changes After Hurricane Katrina: A Summary of Statutory
Provisions, by Keith Bea et al., Government and Finance Division.
reporting to the Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity and Communications.45 The
Director is required to take numerous steps to coordinate emergency communications
planning, preparedness, and response, particularly at the state and regional level.
These efforts are to include coordination with Regional Administrators46 appointed
by the FEMA Administrator to head ten Regional Offices.47 Among the
responsibilities of the Regional Administrators is “coordinating the establishment of
effective regional operable and interoperable emergency communications
Two major programs previously supported by other sections of the Department
of Homeland Security are included in the responsibilities of the Director of
Emergency Communications — SAFECOM49 and participation in the Integrated
Wireless Network (IWN).50 IWN was planned as a joint law enforcement network
for the Departments of Justice, the Treasury, and Homeland Security. DHS has been
represented in the IWN Joint Program Office through the Wireless Management
Office of the Chief Information Officer.51
Another important organizational shift required by the new law is the
requirement that the Director of Emergency Communications coordinate, with the
cooperation of the National Communications System (NCS), the establishment of a
national response capability. The NCS had been designated the Primary Agency and
Emergency Support Function Administrator for the Communications Annex of the
Federal Response Plan, a role it continues in the revised National Response
Framework.52 Originally created to assure continuity of the federal government and
its operations, NCS has a small role in state and local response and recovery.
The law also instructs the Director of Emergency Communications to work with
the Director of the Office of Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC). The
responsibilities of the Office of Interoperability and Compatibility are clarified
regarding standards development, research, developing and assessing new
45 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b) ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(a) and ‘(b).
46 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 671(b) ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(c) ‘(7).
47 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 611, ‘Sec. 507 ‘(a) and ‘(b).
48 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 611, ‘Sec. 507 ‘(c) ‘(2) ‘(C).
49 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(c) ‘(2).
50 P.L. 109-296, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801 ‘(c) ‘(3).
51 Memorandum of Understanding Between the Department of Homeland Security, the
Department of Justice, and the Department of the Treasury Regarding a Joint Tactical
Wireless Communications System, at [http://www.usdoj.gov/jmd/iwn/index.html]. Viewed
May 16, 2008.
52 National Response Framework, Emergency Support Function #2, ESF#2, January 2008
at [http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-esf-02.pdf]. See updated information at
[http://www.dhs.gov/xprepresp/committees/editorial_0566.shtm]. Viewed May 16, 2008.
technology, coordination with the private sector, and other duties.53 The
development of a comprehensive research and development program is required.54
Among the key responsibilities assigned to the Director of Emergency
Communications is to assist the Secretary for Homeland Security in carrying out the
program responsibilities required by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism
Prevention Act in Sec. 7303 (a) (1) [6 U.S.C. 194 (a) (1)], summarized beginning on
page 3, above. Other responsibilities of the Director include conducting outreach
programs, providing technical assistance, coordinating regional working groups,
promoting the development of standard operating procedures and best practices,
establishing non-proprietary standards for interoperability, developing a national
communications plan, working to assure operability and interoperability of
communications systems for emergency response, and reviewing grants.55 Required
elements of the National Emergency Communications Plan56 include establishing
requirements for assessments and reports,57 and an evaluation of the feasibility of
developing a mobile communications capability modeled on the Army Signal
Corps.58 General procedures are provided for coordination of emergency
communication grants,59 and for a Regional Emergency Communications
Coordination (RECC) Working Group.60 An Emergency Communications
Preparedness Center is to be established.61 Specific provisions are included covering
urban and other high risk communications capabilities that closely resemble the
provisions of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.62
The formation of the regional working groups, the RECCs, responded in part to
requests from the public safety community to expand interoperable communications
planning to include the second tier of emergency workers. Non-federal members of
the RECC include first responders, state and local officials and emergency managers,
and public safety answering points (911 call centers).63 Additionally, RECC working
groups are to coordinate with a variety of communications providers (such as
wireless carriers and cable operators), hospitals, utilities, emergency evacuation
53 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 672.
54 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 673.
55 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1801.
56 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1802.
57 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1803.
58 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1803 ‘(d) ‘(4) ‘(A).
59 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1804.
60 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1805.
61 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1806.
62 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1807.
63 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII,’Sec. 1805 ‘(b) ‘(1).
transit services, ambulance services, amateur radio operators, and others as
Congress also required assessments of emergency communications
capabilities,65 including an inventory that identifies radio frequencies used by federal
departments and agencies.66
9/11 Commission Recommendations
As noted above, Congress initially responded to the 9/11 Commission
recommendation about emergency communications with provisions in the
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.
In addition to the recommendation, which urged the release of spectrum,
creation of better communications connectivity in high-risk urban areas, and high
priority for federal funding for communications capacity, the section containing this
recommendation mentioned other concerns.67 The Commission report commented
on the impact on emergency response capacity when “an attack is large enough” and
the need for “Teamwork, collaboration, and cooperation” as well as “regular joint
training sessions.” The report states that “Public safety organizations, chief
administrative officers, state emergency management agencies, and the Department
of Homeland Security should develop a regional focus....” The Commission
expressed the opinion that the problems of communications at all three crash sites
provided “strong evidence that compatible and adequate communications among
public safety organizations at the local, state, and federal levels remains an important
Both the 108th and 109th Congresses provided authorities and funds to address
the Commission’s concerns. The 110th Congress has continued the work, meeting
a Democratic campaign pledge to implement fully the 9/11 Commission’s
recommendations with the passage of Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11
Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53), see below.
Actions in the 110th Congress
The passage of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission
Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53) further advanced the efforts of Congress to provide better
and interoperable communications for public safety. Title III of the law is to assistst
in meeting the goals set for the Office of Emergency Communications in the 21
64 P.L. 109-295, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII,’Sec. 1805 ‘(c).
65 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1803 (a).
66 P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Sec. 671(b), ‘Title XVIII, ‘Sec. 1803 (a) (5).
67 “Command, Control, and Communications,” 9/11 Commission Report, op. cit. pp. 396-
Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-295, Title VI, Subtitle
D) with an Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program.68
Title XXII revised provisions of the Deficit Reduction Act regarding the nature
of programs eligible for grants from the Digital Television Transition and Public
Safety Fund, making funds generally available for planning, system designing, and
purchasing decisions related to achieving interoperability. Part of the funds must be
allocated for grants to establish strategic reserves. The bill also has required the FCC
to study feasible ways to set up a backup system for emergency communications with
the objective of developing “a resilient interoperable communications system.” The
requirement for funding the billion-dollar program in FY2007, as required by the Call
Home Act, was reaffirmed in the text.69
National Emergency Communications Plan
Title III of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act
established new guidelines for funding, tightened requirements for meeting state and
national planning goals, and set a deadline by which interoperable communications
must be achieved as part of the National Emergency Communications Plan required
by Title VI Subtitle D of P.L. 109-295. The Department of Homeland Security issued
the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) in July 2008.70 The report
stated that 56 states and territories had submitted Statewide Communications
Interoperability Plans, confirming their eligibility for grants as stipulated in the
Homeland Security Act, as amended.71 At a hearing on July 15, 2008, members of
Congress had expressed concern at the lateness of the plan, which is a pre-condition
for releasing grant funds.72
The NECP sets three goals for levels of interoperability73
!By 2010, 90% of all areas designated within the Urban Areas
Security Initiative (UASI) will demonstrate response-level
emergency communications, as defined in grant programs, within
one hour for routine events involving multiple jurisdictions and
68 H.Rept. 110-259, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,
Title III, Sec.301.
69 Ibid., Sec. 2201.
70 DHS, National Emergency Communications Plan, July 2008 at
Viewed August 4, 2008.
71 Ibid., Introduction, “Message from the Secretary.”
72 Hearing, House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on
Emergency Communications, Preparedness, and Response, “Assessing the Framework and
Coordination of the National Emergency Communications Plan,” July 15, 2008.
73 National Emergency Communications Plan, “Executive Summary,” page ES-1.
!By 2011, 75% of non-UASI will have achieved the goal set for
!By 2013, 75% of all jurisdictions will be able to demonstrate
response-level emergency communications within three hours for a
significant incident as outlined in national planning scenarios.
These jurisdictional goals are to be knit together into a national communications
capability through program efforts such as FEMA’s Regional Emergency
Communications Coordination (RECC) Working Group. The three goals are
bolstered by seven objectives for improving emergency communications for first
responders, dealing largely with organization and coordination.74 Each of these
objectives have “Supporting Initiatives” and milestones. Some of the initiatives do
not specify what entity is to accomplish the step described in the NECP but many of
them include a commitment from FEMA to deliver a product by deadlines ranging
from six months to three years, providing the 111th and successive Congresses ample
opportunity for oversight.
The Homeland Security Trust Fund Act of 2007 (Senator Biden, S. 345) would
establish and fund a Homeland Security and Neighborhood Safety Trust Fund.
Expenditures from the fund would go for grants to support programs that fulfill
recommendations by the 9/11 Commission. In particular, provisions are made for $1
billion annually in grants for fiscal years 2007 through 2011 for state and local
interoperable communications, to be distributed through the Office of Community
Oriented Policing Services. The bill also contains a requirement for the immediate
release of the 24 MHz of spectrum for public safety use, now scheduled for 2009,
discussed above. Also in the Senate, Senator Charles E. Schumer introduced a bill
to ensure adequate funding for high-threat areas (S. 74). In the 108th Congress,
Senator Schumer had sponsored similar legislation, some of which found its way into
the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in the form of requirements
for at least two pilot programs in high-threat areas.75
The Reliable, Effective, and Sustained Procurement of New Devices for
Emergency Responders (RESPONDER) Act of 2008 (S. 3465, Wicker) would create
a First Responders Interoperable Device Availability Trust Fund to provide grants to
purchase interoperable radios for the new public safety network proposed for some
of the channels being released in the transition to digital TV. The network plan is
linked to the auction of a remaining block of analog spectrum, known as the D Block.
The RESPONDER Act would place the entire net proceeds of the D Block Auction
in the Trust. Additional funds would come from a percentage of future auctions.
Auction authority for the Federal Communication Commission would be extended
to assure the continuation of revenue-producing auctions.
74 Ibid., “Executive Summary,” page ES-2.
75 P.L. 108-458, Title VII, Subtitle C, Sec. 7304 (a).
In the House, H.R. 130 (Representative Frelinghuysen), Smarter Funding for All
of America’s Homeland Security Act of 2007, would provide additional formulas for
assuring funding, but does not specifically address interoperability. Among its
provisions, H.R. 130 would create an Advisory Council on First Responders and
would also require the Under Secretary of Science and Technology within DHS to
conduct a study evaluating the need to assign additional spectrum for use by public
safety. The Re-Channelization of Public Safety Spectrum Act (H.R. 1788,
Representative Ferguson) would require the FCC to provide a band plan for public
safety use of channels at 700 MHz to accommodate commercial broadband
The Public Safety Interoperability Implementation Act (H.R. 3116,
Representative Stupak) would establish a separate fund within the Digital Television
Transition and Public Safety Fund that would be used for public safety
communications grants. This separate fund would receive the proceeds remaining
from the auction required by the Deficit Reduction Act, after the payments required
by the act had been made. It would also receive up to half of the net proceeds of
future auctions, although this share could be reduced. In addition a total of $1.5
billion would be authorized for appropriations over three years, beginning with
FY2008. The grant program would be administered by the NTIA with a board
created for that purpose, with five members appointed by the Secretary of Commerce.
Grants would go for communications critical to public safety, with a preference for
programs providing broad-based interoperability.