HEROES Act Aims to Help First Responders Comply with Communications Upgrade

The Help Emergency Responders Operate Emergency Systems (HEROES) Act, introduced into Congress Sept. 20 in a bipartisan effort, aims to help first responders comply with a federal mandate requiring them to update their communications equipment – without relying solely on local taxpayers’ wallets.

"Immediately following the horrific Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the capacity of our nation's radio and communications networks was overwhelmed. This not only meant despair for individuals looking for family members, this also meant that first responders were not able to coordinate or communicate their efforts to save lives and respond as effectively,” explained Rep. Steve Rothman, D-N.J., who introduced the HEROES Act along with House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y. “We must make sure that never happens again.”

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) introduced the federal "Narrowband Mandate" in 2004 to ensure more efficient use of the communications spectrum and greater access for first responders. This mandate compels all first responders to upgrade their communications equipment and spectrum licenses by Jan. 1, 2013, to avoid the communications pitfalls in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 included provisions to aid states and local governments in complying with the 2013 deadline. Budget cuts, however, drastically reduced funding for the FCC mandate and elements of the 9/11 Commission Act. In some cases, these programs were eliminated.

"This unfunded federal mandate will force already overburdened local taxpayers to finance these essential upgrades for our local first responders. More than 18,000 police departments, more than 26,000 fire departments and millions of first responders across the country are impacted by this mandate," said Rothman. "Without adequate funding, many of these local first responders will be left with radio and communications equipment that will be unable to operate during an emergency."

According to Rothman and King, the HEROES Act will address this vulnerability by setting up a DHS-administered grant program for local municipalities to apply for funding for essential communications equipment that the federal government requires them to upgrade.

The act also will:

· Establish a $400 million DHS-administered Narrowbanding Compliance Assistance Program to assist first responders in meeting the January 1, 2013 narrowband mandate;
· Use the sale of federally owned spectrum to pay for the competitive grant program; and
· Reallocate the D block to public safety and provide funding for the construction of a national interoperable public safety wireless broadband network.

“I am pleased to join Congressman Rothman in introducing The Help Emergency Responders Operate Emergency Systems, or HEROES Act of 2011, which will provide much needed assistance for our Nation’s first responders as we approach the Jan. 1, 2013, narrowbanding deadline,” said King.

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