Emergency communication remains a challenge ten years after 9/11

toward dealing more effectively with emergency communications.

What we have today and lacked ten years ago:

-Better tools are widely available for emergency communications. Smartphones and social media allow the general public and public safety organizations to communicate in a rapid, information-rich and compatible manner.

  • The federal government is actively working on a mass-mobile notification technology PLAN/CMAS. It is a one-way broadcast limited to ninety characters of text, but it is a positive step that recognizes the importance of sending emergency communications to mobile phones.
  • We have more watchful citizens today. “If you see something, say something” is a powerful campaign being promoted by the federal government and the transportation sector. People are already helping each other stay safe, by staying watchful and letting people know when they see something that is not right.
  • -People are actively participating in emergency situations. We saw the power of the people in the heroic actions of the plane passengers that fought the hijackers over Pennsylvania. People today have more of a “can do” attitude for their personal safety and such an attitude helps them become assets versus liabilities in a crisis.

After 9/11, then-President George W. Bush created Presidential Directive Five, which stated interoperability is a must. He then provided the funding mechanism. Over the last decade, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent trying to legislate and develop more reliable and interoperable emergency communication systems.


The funding was a great start, but Directive Five suffered from traditional practices, policies and political hurdles. The struggle to secure emergency spectrum known as “D block” met with heavy opposition in the House of Representatives. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has unfunded mandates to Narrow Band all agencies that meet the criteria, lessening the perceived need for compliance.

Once that is sorted out, we have an even a bigger problem to solve: how do we plan to communicate and protect the people we serve knowing what lies ahead?

Critical emergency communications with residents still rely on antiquated reverse 911 type systems for one way transmission of information. This system falls far short when you recognize that currently twenty-five percent of all homes do not maintain a hard line phone, and 50 percent of homes with the head of household thirty-years of age or younger do not have a landline.

Emergency messaging with severe limits on the number of characters that can be sent, results in insufficient information being delivered.

To reach the greatest number of people in