Click here for video of this hearing.
The witnesses are:
COMMUNICATIONS: INTEROPERABILITY HEARING
SENATOR STEVENS OPENING STATEMENT
SEPTEMBER 29, 2005
We have a whole series of conflicts this morning gentlemen, not the least of which is the final statements on the floor on the nomination of Judge Roberts, but also we have several conference committees meeting and I doubt we are going to have too great of attendance here today. But, the Senator from California and I might be able to stir it up a little bit.
We’re going to have government witnesses this morning and the afternoon witnesses will be industry witnesses. The afternoon session is scheduled to start at 2:30.
The recent hurricanes have shown that many first responders just cannot talk with one another because their radios and communications networks have been inoperable. Achieving interoperability requires a great many things: coordination, and planning, and training; expert equipment and proper standards; and, the spectrum to make certain they have the best available communications.
Now this is important because on a specific date the broadcasters will be required to give first responders 24 megahertz of new spectrum in the 700 megahertz band, including a portion of that for interoperability exclusively. This Committee is working on that bill. We hope to be able to consider it next month. And, we hope that that will bring about some additional funds that we may be able to use to deal with the interoperability problems. And, I do want to thank the Louisiana Delegation for their participation in this hearing. Senator Vitter (R-La.) agreed to chair the afternoon portion because we have an appropriations bill on the floor this afternoon.
September 29, 2005
Chairman Stevens Q & A with Witnesses
Chairman Stevens: This is a difficult problem for us because of how much it really interrelates to the difficulty of the spectrum bill that we are going to act on this year. I’m trying to get the exact figures, but we were given the figures from CBO that indicate the return to the government for the Treasury would be considerably higher – four to five times higher – if we postpone that date into 2009. We have an enormous demand that this take place no later than 2007 and hopefully in 2006, to have the first responders’ megahertz available to them. I don’t know yet what the answer is going to be, but, clearly, we’ve been required by the Budget Resolution of this year to raise $4.8 billion by action of this Committee and the only possible way to that is by passing the spectrum bill. We hope that will be part of the reconciliation process and that it will become law. If it is not, there will be no funds for interoperability within the coming years. So, I know we all want to work on that. I have been informed by our staff that the estimate for just radios and equipment for interoperability, if they are available, Mr. Orr, would be over $15 billion. So far our programs call for providing funds through the Justice Department Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services, the COPS Program, and I’m told that there has been a substantial amount, around $92.7 million this year alone, allocated to enforcement agencies on that program. In addition, there was money that came out of other funds. I don’t know the total of those but, I’m told somewhere around $900 million so far to deal with interoperability. But, Mr. Orr, I should interrupt to tell you that you mentioned our dear friend who is not here, Senator Hollings. I don’t know if you were the staffer, but he came back one time and told me he had been in Hilton Head and a staffer had come up to him and said, “Senator, you’ve got to go back to Charleston. They’re telling lies about you in Charleston.” And Fritz told him, he said, “No, I’m going to stay right here. They’re telling the truth about me here.” We miss his wit and we miss his help. And, he would be of great help to us on this one now. But, can any of you tell us what is the ability of local agencies to meet these needs? How much money do we have to have in the near term, say five years, from the federal government? Dr. Boyd, do you have any idea?
Dr. Boyd: As you can imagine, that’s a really tough question to answer. And the reason it’s a really tough question to answer is, there is no place in the United States that you can go to to find a picture of what the state of interoperability is in the United States. That’s why we’re undertaking a major baseline study that will produce results, probably around mid-next year that will give us the first genuine, statistically reliable picture of the state of interoperability across the country. NIST is involved in that activity. We’re working closely with the Justice Department and others in doing that so that for the first time we can give you real, grounded information about what that status is.
Chairman Stevens: We’re going to have a hearing this afternoon with some of the companies that are involved in manufacturing these systems. I shall not be able to be here because we will have the Defense bill on the floor, I believe. But, what Mr. Orr says, there’s little we’re going to have a system that we could say everyone should use within the near term. Is that right, Mr. Orr?
Mr. Orr: That is correct. I think we’ll have progress and movement towards more complete standards regarding P-25, but it is still some time before we’ll see a full suite of P-25 standards. It could be a month…
Chairman Stevens: My time is almost up, but, Chief, you’re the one that’s in the trenches on this one and you’re here representing, as I understand, the International Association, right, APCO? What is the suggestion from your people? What should we do? Should we mandate a series of items and say that those should be purchased with federal funds? Should we get involved at all in delineating what will be acceptable use of federal funds as far as this interoperability question is concerned?
Chief Carter: I believe our perspective from public safety is that there may not be any one system that’s going to accomplish interoperability nationwide. SAFECOM has been doing some tremendous work to identify a variety of issues that we can pull together, but I believe that standards will probably be the answer. Someone is going to have to step up to the plate and say this is the standard and this is what we are going to do.
Chairman Stevens: Well, we have standards now, but we haven’t got technology to meet the standards. Dr. Boyd?
Dr. Boyd: Yes, sir, if I might add, for some time there are going to be a variety of systems that aren’t going to work directly with each other, simply because the total installed base in the field right now is probably, and this is very conservative, somewhere in excess of $60 billion. The $15 billion figure you referred to earlier is based on a study conducted 10 years ago that talked only about the portable units and the radios in the car. So what that means is that we have to look at a system of systems approach, that is how we’re going to make a lot of systems work together. We think we can do that. And, the way we’re directing the standards, working with NIST and the rest, and the public safety community in particular, is that we develop common grant guidance, which the public safety community helped us put together to say what will work, what can you live with given what you have now and what you know is going to be in place for a while so that we can use the common grant guidance to help steer all of the federal grants. And that guidance is now incorporated in every federal grant program. As the standards come available, they’ll be locked into that guidance as we continue to tighten the guidance around the standards process.
Chairman Stevens: I’m running over time because I’ve just been called to the Homeland Security Conference on Appropriations, so I’m going to leave and ask Senator Sununu (R-N.H.) to chair. This will be my last question. Isn’t the problem really that if you have a disaster like Katrina or Rita or even 9-11, when we call in responders from outside of the zone to come assist and really replace some of those who may be missing or unable to do their job for one reason or another, isolated by storms or whatever, that the people who are coming in, they have to be interoperable with what’s left there, too, don’t they? It is a national problem, isn’t it?
Chief Carter: It’s absolutely a national problem, but one of the points we want to make in the public safety community will expand on this, is that a lot of the elements of interoperability are there. What we first have to get in place are things like governance agreements and how we’re going to do it.
Chairman Stevens: Let me tell you just this, I’ve been a pilot now for a long time and when I fly, I get in a plane and I go from Alaska to California, I just punch different numbers and I’m totally operable wherever I am. I’ve never been in a plane that I couldn’t reach the ground with wherever I was because that’s the system of aircraft radios. Why don’t we use radios like that for first responders? Why shouldn’t you be able to say, “You’re on Channel A if you’re in California, you’re on Channel C if you’re in Alaska?” Why can’t you have this, Mr. Orr, why don’t we have those kind of radios for these people?
Mr. Orr: That was the object, as I said in my opening statement, that was the object of Project-25. I think the issue is that industry has not come to consensus on this issue over the last 15 years and the bottom line is it needs closure. We need to finish these standards. Industry needs to come to consensus or some other action is going to be taken, as I was talking about during my opening remarks. There are alternative methods to make these standards through the Steering Committee, but the bottom line is industry to date has not come to consensus on creating those radios.
Chairman Stevens: The Weather Bureau has now given us radio availability. We can turn it on wherever we are, as pilots, and get local weather.
Dr. Boyd: I also have a commercial pilot’s license, sir. If I might suggest, aviation is on a single band. In any given area only a few hundred communicators are likely to be involved and they’re under a controlled system where they talk to a controlled operator. So, they talk under certain circumstances in a relatively small area. So, as you change across, you know, whether you’re in ground control or whether you’re on approach, each of those are specified for a region and they handle, it’s very complicated if you’re a controller, but a relatively small number of stations. The public safety community, on the other hand, represents 60,000 individual systems. Trying to control things and manage things within their own area of responsibility and representing some 3 million individual public safety operators so that channels, which can be identified in a region to handle a few hundred aircraft, when a channel is applied, for example, in his department, then the adjacent folks can’t have the same channel without our lots of prior coordination to pull together how that’s going to happen.
Chairman Stevens: It’s not a technology problem he’s talking about then. It’s a use problem.
Dr. Boyd: Well, it’s a combination. Technology is at the center of this, but most of the things required to achieve interoperability in the near term already exist, but they require serious agreements, planning, governance kinds of arrangements across jurisdictions. In Rapid Com for example in 10 cities we were able to work with the 10 cities to establish an emergency level, a command level of interoperability in each of those cities, with no new resources, simply by working with those communities and the communities around each of those cities, to come together to agree on how they are going to approach these things. For example, in the aviation community…
Chairman Stevens: I’ve got to leave, but let me tell you, if you moved some of those people over to Chief Carter’s area, they wouldn’t be interoperable with him, would they?
Dr. Boyd: If they’ve worked out these agreements in advance, they can be. And, if we’ve identified what kind of patching equipment is going to be required, they can be.
Chairman Stevens: Is there any need for further involvement of the federal government, Mr. Orr, in mandating that this come to a closure?
Mr. Orr: We haven’t, certainly at NIST, we haven’t talked about mandating coming, but we are providing all of our resources to give the users involved in Project-25 the technical and engineering resources to finish this out. And, with the support of people and programs like Dr. Boyd and SAFECOM, who will then take those standards that the P-25 Steering Committee designates and put it into grant guidance, thereby putting the weight of federal grants and procurement behind those standards, I do think we can move this forward in a much shorter amount of time than it has been in the past.
Chairman Stevens: I call the Committee’s attention to the SAFECOM interoperability continuum chart that you have available. I think it’s very informative and thank you for that.
Witness Panel 1
Dr. David G. Boyd, Ph.D.SAFECOM, Deputy Director, Office of Systems Engineering & DevelopmentDepartment of Homeland Security, Science and Technology
Chief Willis CarterChief of CommunicationsShreveport Fire Department, and Association of Public Safety-Communications Officials International (APCO)
Mr. Kenneth MoranDirector, Office of Homeland Security, Enforcement Bureau,Federal Communications Commission
Mr. Dereck OrrProgram Manager, Public Safety CommunicationsNational Institute of Standards and Technology