Vigilance Aids Public Safety

Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001. Undoubtedly, most people have been thinking back to that dayremembering where they were, what they were doing, and how much everything changed in just a few short hours. Even though so much was altered by those events, however, much remains the same today. We still face a looming threat of terrorist attacks. The US and its allies are still struggling for the upper hand in the resulting global "war on terror." And public-safety communications, which suffered failings that caused more people to be in harm's way on that terrible day, still are not at the level needed if the US suffers another disasterterrorist or otherwise.

In a report card that it recently released, the Bipartisan Policy Center highlighted nine of the 41 recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission in July 2004 that remain unfinished. It emphasized, for example, that Congress should pass legislation to allocate additional radio spectrum to improve interoperability for first responders. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to work with state and local governments to address gaps in unity of effort and accelerate emergency communications. These failings make it harder to coordinate a broad-scale emergency response to a disaster scene, which was another of the report's points.

Since September 11, 2001, the public has been acutely aware of the failings of our communications infrastructureespecially where public safety is concerned. these concerns were clear in the results of the 2011 survey by Federal Signal Corp. the firm has deduced that 90% of Americans believe that community public emergency awareness and/or communication requires some form of minor to major improvement. Tellingly, half of Americans feel that they are less safe today than they were prior to the 9/11 tragedy. One-third (34%) of Americans feel that public safety is not a priority in their community. In addition, almost 4 out of 10 consider their city or town to be slightly to completely unprepared in the event of an emergency.

The reasons behind these issues are largely economic. The recession has caused many states to endure great financial hardships. Budget cuts have resulted and many have hit the civil-service sector. In more rural areas, which many assume are an unlikely terrorist target, governments have made the decision to not upgrade public-safety communications. Bad planning also has had an effect, as neighboring counties have upgraded their infrastructure and systems at different times without an eye toward compatibility.

Yet what has changed is the mentality of the average person living in the US. People are now aware that communications may fail during a disaster. In an emergency, they will try landlines, cell phones, texting, and even social-networking sites if they cannot connect. Vigilance also has become a part of public awareness. People know when they see something suspicious and they report it. Americans have always been resourceful, and the idea is that we will rely on that resourcefulness to extend our own protection. Between the efforts of individuals and the fact that emergency communications are slowly being upgraded, hopefully we will soon have greater faith in our emergency-response efforts.

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