Bill to aid disaster response

$3.3 billion planned for communications

Hurricane Rita

September 22, 2005|By Siobhan Gorman | Siobhan Gorman,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- The leaders of the Senate's homeland security committee proposed a bipartisan measure yesterday to prevent the kind of communications meltdown that unfolded in the government's response to Hurricane Katrina.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will consider the bill today. The White House is reviewing the measure, spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

The bill, the first one of its kind to be considered since Katrina, would set aside $3.3 billion over five years to help states modernize their communications systems. Since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security has spent more than $350 million.

Those upgrades would be designed to help states and localities buy systems that can both withstand catastrophes and allow responders to connect with their counterparts in other agencies at all levels of government.

The legislation - co-sponsored by committee Chairman Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat - would also establish a new office to implement the measure, replacing one established in 2003, and develop a national communications strategy.

"We have heard from community leaders throughout the nation that this is a major concern, which should be immediately addressed," Collins said in a statement.

"Katrina has shown us that without a working communications system a coordinated response to an emergency becomes close to impossible," said Lieberman, the top Democrat on the committee, which oversees the Homeland Security Department.

A department spokesman would not comment on the bill but said the agency would evaluate whether to give states more specific requirements on how to spend federal money for communication.

The department has estimated the cost of upgrading communications equipment for the 2.5 million public safety officials nationwide at $40 billion.

If the federal government makes communications equipment a top priority and resolves questions about cost-sharing with states and localities, the nation could be on a system that communicated smoothly "in the next 12 to 18 months," said Phil Anderson, a homeland security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He said the department should not wait for a research program on new technology, as called for by Collins and Lieberman.

"We can move this forward very quickly," said Anderson, estimating that the cost, using existing technology, would be less than $10 billion.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.