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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-02-02

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    JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 615, the Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act for three reasons. The bill would address interoperability among information technology systems and radio communications systems to exchange voice, data, and video in real time.



    First, the bill will save lives of first responders and those they seek to help. Second, the legislation is necessary to create a seamless level of communication among Department of Homeland Security components that are first responders to a terrorist attack, natural [[Page H680]] or manmade disaster; and finally to meet the technological challenges of bridging the communication divide between different communications systems used by first responders within the Department of Homeland Security.

    As a senior member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I am well aware, as are many of my colleagues, of the essential and lifesaving role of communications during a crisis.

    Because the tragedy of September 11, 2001, was compounded by communication failures among the brave first responders who entered the burning towers that comprised the World Trade Center it has been an imperative of the Homeland Security Committee to address first responder communication interoperability challenges.

    The number of first responders lost on that single day was the greatest loss of first responders at any single event in U.S. History: 343 New York City Fire Department firefighters; 23 New York City Police Department officers; 37 Port Authority Police Department officers; 15 EMTs; and 3 court officers were casualties of the attacks.

    The need for this bill authored by Congressman Payne is evident.

    The City of Houston covers over a 1000 square mile region in Southeast Texas. It has a night-time population of nearly two million people, which peaks with over three million daytime inhabitants.

    The city of Houston's 9-1-1 Emergency Center manages nearly 9,000 emergency calls per day. The volume of emergency calls can easily double during times of inclement weather or special City social/ sporting events like Hurricanes Ike in September 2008; and Katrina as well as Rita, which occurred in September and October of 2005).

    Annually, one out of every ten citizens uses EMS.

    There are over 200,000 EMS incidents involving over 225,000 patients or potential patients annually. On the average, EMS responds to a citizen every 3 minutes. Each EMS response is made by one of 88 City of Houston EMS vehicles.

    In 2013, the City of Houston's fire Department lost Captain EMT Matthew Renaud, Engineer Operator EMT Robert Bebee, Firefighter EMT Robert Garner and Probationary Firefighter Anne Sullivan when they responded to a hotel fire.

    Throughout the history of the Houston Police Department over 110 officers have lost their lives in the line of duty.

    Each member of the House of Representatives knows of the loss of a first responder who was going to the aid of those in harm's way. This bill will offer additional resources to the first responders of the Department of Homeland Security.

    The bill amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to include among the responsibilities of the Under Secretary for Management responsibilities with respect to policies and directives to achieve and maintain interoperable communications among the components of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

    The Under Secretary of Homeland Security would submit to the House and Senate Homeland Security Committees a strategy, which shall be updated as necessary, for achieving and maintaining interoperable communications, including for daily operations, planned events, and emergencies, with corresponding milestones, that includes: an assessment of interoperability gaps in radio communications DHS components, as of this Act's enactment date; information on DHS efforts and activities, including current and planned policies, directives, and training, since November 1, 2012, to achieve and maintain interoperable communications, and planned efforts and activities to achieve and maintain interoperable communications; an assessment of obstacles and challenges to achieving and maintaining interoperable communications; information on, and an assessment of, the adequacy of mechanisms available to the Under Secretary to enforce and compel compliance with interoperable communications policies and directives of DHS; guidance provided to DHS components to implement interoperable communications policies and directives; the total amount of funds expended by DHS since November 1, 2012, and projected future expenditures, to achieve interoperable communications; and dates upon which DHS-wide interoperability is projected to be achieved for voice, data, and video communications, respectively, and interim milestones.

    The bill ensures that the Department of Homeland Security would conduct a survey of intra-agency efforts or task forces that have been delegated responsibilities for achieving and maintaining interoperable communications, and report on the status of these efforts, including: progress on each interim milestone; information on any policies, directives, guidance, and training established by the Under Secretary of Homeland Security; an assessment of the level of compliance, adoption, and participation among the DHS components with the policies, directives, guidance, and training established by the Under Secretary; and information on any additional resources or authorities needed by the Under Secretary.

    This bill will ensure that the Department of Homeland Security's first responders are prepared to meet the challenges of manmade or natural disasters.

    I ask my colleagues to join me in voting in favor of H.R. 615.

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