First responders urge Congress to invest in updating emergency communications systems

Our 911 call centers and communications systems are critical in helping people during emergency situations, but many challenges remain, particularly when it comes to keeping up with technology.

Members of a House panel heard directly from first responders and law enforcement about what still needs to be done to improve emergency communications.

“Challenges in operability and inter-operability still persist and our aging 911 infrastructure poses additional vulnerabilities,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida), chair of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response & Recovery.

“Without critical information coming in, it is very difficult to make informed life-saving critical decisions,” said Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Florida), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Witnesses said while emergency communications have improved significantly since the failures during the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, many systems remain outdated.

“There is still more to be done,” said Captain Mel Maier with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan. “We need to meet the needs and expectations of the American people in the 21st century.”

In August, there were 911 call center outages in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.

Lawmakers also heard about gaps in coverage for rural areas where many of the agencies have limited funding.

“We currently use an antiquated radio system which is based on technology developed during the second World War,” said Sheriff Homer “Gator” Deloach, from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Florida.

Fire and law enforcement agencies urged Congress to invest more funding in training, updated equipment and for overall improvements to communications systems.

They pointed to the success of several grant programs formed after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“These grants incentivize first responders across jurisdictions to collaborate before, during and after an incident,” said Chris Lombard, deputy chief with the Seattle Fire Department. “This coordination reduces confusion and directly saves lives.”