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How America’s Fragmented Approach to Public Safety Wastes Money and Spectrum
journal contributionposted on 2005-09-01, 00:00 authored by Jon PehaJon Peha
Emergency responders such as firefighters, police, and paramedics depend on reliable and ubiquitous wireless communications. Failures in these communications systems can cost lives. Particularly since 9/11, there has been great concern about the possibility of failures due to lack of interoperability, and failures due to a shortage of public safety spectrum. This paper shows how both of these problems are caused in part by America’s fragmented approach to developing communications infrastructure for public safety, in which thousands of local agencies make decisions without a coherent national strategy, and in many cases, without much coordination with neighbors. As a result, public safety agencies build more infrastructure, incur more cost, and consume more scarce spectrum than would be necessary if the there were an effective forward-looking national strategy. This paper also considers the most widely cited estimates of public safety’s spectrum needs, which predict a serious shortage of spectrum by 2010 unless considerably more spectrum becomes available to public safety. This paper shows that these estimates are much higher than would be appropriate if the nation employed more regional or national coordination. On the other hand, some underlying assumptions could make these estimates dangerously optimistic in regions where coordination among public safety agencies is particularly weak.