Conference Addresses Homeland Security Communications Needs

March 5, 2003
Nextel Communications Inc., a leading provider of fully integrated wireless voice and data communications services, hosted a conference devoted to interoperable communications for first responders at the Adam's Mark Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference featured several leading public safety officials, incuding James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

This event highlighted the pressing advanced communications needs facing police, fire and other public safety and health officials. The event, which attracted approximately 200 public safety and public health officials, showcased interoperability - the idea that all public safety officials must have the ability to connect with one another through reliable and secure communications regardless of jurisdiction or department.

Speakers included Tim Daniel, director for the Missouri Office of Homeland Security; James Lee Witt, former Federal Emergency Management Agency director; Richard Sheirer, former New York City Emergency Services director; Dr. Jeff Lowell, chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Response System; and Morgan O'Brien, Nextel vice chairman.

Locally, Nextel teamed with the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) to develop a regional mass casualty incident response system - the Emergency Patient Tracking System (EPTS) to track injured persons from the field to area hospitals. This first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art wireless triage system integrates critical communications among area hospitals, health departments, local police and fire departments, Missouri National Guard and Missouri State Emergency Management Agency in times of need.

"By utilizing Nextel wireless technology, we are able to send critical data instantly to a secure Web site that in turn provides on-scene emergency managers, dispatchers, and hospitals immediate access to accurate information," noted Lowell. "EPTS provides an advanced level of communication between the scene and treatment facilities that is not in place anywhere else in the country."

The conference's keynote speaker was Tim Daniel, director for the Missouri Office of Homeland Security, who said, "Establishing reliable and secure communications at the incident scene and providing for situational awareness between local, state and federal partners to the response is our priority."

Witt, who is president of James Lee Witt Associates, stressed that interoperable communications is essential for today's public health and safety professionals. "From the communications failure during the Oklahoma City bombing to something as simple as the recent snowstorm in the Northeast, our nation's first responders need interoperable communications. These tools are fundamental to keeping the American people safe."

Richard Sheirer noted, "On Sept. 11, 2001, we learned the true importance of interoperable communications. It was a chaotic scene at Ground Zero, but if it weren't for Nextel providing us with interoperable communications tools, it might have been worse."

Sheirer also pointed out the increased frequency of situations that demand interoperability. "It seems that now, every major crisis-response effort that we see is multi-jurisdictional and multi-functional," he said. Sheirer is now a senior vice president with Giuliani Partners, LLC. "Can you imagine trying to investigate the sniper case in Maryland without interoperable communications?" he asked.

Nextel Communications is hosting a series of interoperability conferences around the country that are designed to educate consumers, government and public safety officials about the capabilities of and demand for interoperability.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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