Cammack Opening Statement In Hearing On Emergency Communications
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Kat Cammack (R-FL), Ranking Member of the Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement in a subcommittee hearing entitled, “20 Years After 9/11: Examining Emergency Communications (Part 2).”
Ranking Member Cammack’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
I would like to thank Chairwoman Demings for convening this hearing today to continue our very important discussion about emergency communications.
Last month, this Subcommittee had the privilege of hearing from several local first responders about the communication challenges they face every day. Before I begin discussing some of these challenges, I would like to take a moment to highlight the very real human element when talking about emergency communications.
Lack of communication can put first responders’ lives in danger, and as we heard, a radio system failure has led to first responders losing their lives. I’ve said this before, but as the wife of a first responder, this very real scenario is truly unimaginable to me. I want to thank all the witnesses here today for your dedication to helping improve these vital communication systems, as your work really does help save lives.
During our previous hearing, one of the points that really stuck with me is how the needs of rural communities across the country are often overlooked.
About 60 million or 1 in 5 Americans live in rural areas. While these rural communities face many of the same challenges as larger, more urban communities, rural communities are also faced with additional challenges brought on by lack of available resources and funding.
One of the local sheriffs in my district, Sheriff DeLoach, testified at the hearing that his department is still using an antiquated radio system based on technology developed during World War II. This antiquated system effectively isolates them, with no ability to communicate with their counterparts that they frequently work with or rely on for assistance.
Sheriff DeLoach went on to testify that it would cost his department around $7 to $8 million to update their current radio system.
The cost of updating their current radio system is made even more difficult when we consider that more often than not, available grant funding is tailored toward larger communities.
For example, Palatka, which is the county seat for where Sheriff DeLoach serves, is exactly 400 people over the threshold to be considered a low-population area for many of the available grant programs. This means that Palatka must compete with larger cities like Jacksonville, Orlando, or Miami for funding.
In addition to discussing the challenges facing first responders in rural communities, we also heard testimony about the importance of strengthening our cybersecurity infrastructure. While I mentioned this last hearing, it’s a statistic that I feel needs repeating.
A recent survey conducted by SAFECOM found that, “over a third of organizations indicated that cybersecurity incidents have had an impact on the ability of their emergency response providers and government officials’ ability to communicate over the past five years.”
When talking about cybersecurity it is also important to discuss the important role that NextGen911 will play in the future. Providing faster and more reliable response efforts is paramount.
In closing, I would like to recognize the significant progress that has been made to first responder communications since the initial recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission.
SAFECOM, which is managed by CISA, has been critical to improving interoperability and is one of the first organizations to bring together representatives from public safety associations as well as emergency responders in the field.
FirstNet, established in 2012 by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, has set some very aggressive benchmarks for the rural deployment of new first responder communication infrastructure, and I look forward to discussing that more today.
Lastly, IPAWS provides life-saving information to individuals about severe weather, power outages, and law enforcement situations. In 2020, twice the number of state, local, territorial, and tribal agencies used IPAWS to reach their constituents when compared to 2019. This further ensures the safety of all Americans.
In my role as Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, I remain committed to ensuring that our policies take into account the unique needs of our first responders, especially those in rural communities. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and to working together to improve first responder communications.