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February 5,  2002

New Report Details Public Safety Radio Communications at Pentagon On Sept. 11th

Earlier Tragedy Prepared Area for Attack, But Nationally, Public Safety Calls Fail One-Third of the Time

 (SafetyAlerts) - The Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN) Program today released Answering the Call: Communications Lessons Learned from the Pentagon Attack, which provides a detailed analysis of public safety communications at the Pentagon incident on September 11, 2001. The report also includes steps public safety agencies across the country can take to improve their radio communications.

The PSWN Program is a joint initiative sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. The program works with the public safety community at all levels of government to improve wireless radio interoperability -- the ability of public safety officials to communicate via radio seamlessly and in real time.

"The Pentagon incident demonstrates in a very public way how critically important communications capabilities are for public safety agencies," said Robert E. Lee, Jr., PSWN Program Manager. "Imagine the challenge of 50 different local, state and federal public safety agencies responding at the Pentagon -- 900 different radio users, operating on multiple radio systems, and attempting to communicate with one another."

The Pentagon report found that the majority of local public safety responders at the scene experienced little difficulty establishing interoperable communications during the initial response. Due to existing "mutual-aid" agreements, most of the first responders had Arlington County's radio frequencies preprogrammed into their portable radio equipment and had frequently used the capability for other mutual-aid responses.

"The success of the initial response at the Pentagon can, in part, be credited to the planning efforts of the region's public safety officials," said Rick Murphy, PSWN Program Manager. "When Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into Washington, DC's 14th Street Bridge on January 13, 1982, the lack of effective communications among public safety personnel called attention to the need for improved public safety communications in the city's greater metropolitan area."

While communications were smooth during the initial response, new challenges arose as the number of state and federal agencies increased at the Pentagon site. No means of direct radio communication were immediately available to these secondary response agencies, and these agencies were left to find alternate means to communicate.

"This report and recent news reports of communication failures among firefighters responding at the World Trade Center highlight issues that public safety agencies are facing across the country," said Murphy. "Unfortunately, these problems are not confined to major incidents, such as the events of September 11th. Studies show that across the Nation, public safety officials have trouble communicating in operational situations one-third of the time."

"This is a situation that can and must be corrected -- through the allocation of resources and radio spectrum, and further cooperation and training," added Lee. "No man, woman, or child should ever lose his or her life because public safety officials cannot talk to one another."

The PSWN Program is a joint initiative sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. The PSWN Program brings together public safety officials from local, state, federal, and tribal governments to increase wireless interoperability among the Nation's fire, law enforcement, and emergency medical services departments. The program conducts pilot projects and symposiums nationwide, and provides the public safety community with comprehensive information on wireless interoperability. For more information, please contact the PSWN Program at 1-800-565-PSWN, via e-mail at, or visit the Web site at .

An executive summary of the Pentagon report follows this release. The report is also available on the PSWN Program Web site at: .

Answering the Call:
Communications Lessons Learned From the Pentagon Attack

Executive Summary

The tragic events of September 11th occurred in quick succession with little or no warning of the impending danger. Within moments of the crash at the Pentagon, incident responders from public safety organizations in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area and, in the later stages, others from far beyond the metropolitan area borders, arrived on the scene to support a variety of services including fire suppression, emergency medical treatment, traffic control, search and rescue, and crime scene investigation.

A total of 50 public safety agencies responded to the incident resulting in approximately 900 radio users attempting communications with various mission requirements and priorities to consider.

To determine the state of wireless communications at the Pentagon, the Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN) Program tapped multiple sources with first-hand, on-site knowledge. The program conducted 32 interviews with first responders, technical representatives, and public information officers from the public safety agencies that responded. The PSWN Program also attended police and fire Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) meetings, observed panel discussions about the response to the attacks, and reviewed congressional testimony given by numerous public safety officials.

The PSWN Program developed the following findings regarding interoperable communications at the Pentagon site:

-- Regional Planning and Coordination Effort. Because of the unique geographical and political environment of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, its public safety leaders realized many years ago that any response to a major incident in the area would be a regional response. With the Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) providing a proactive forum for planning and coordination, local jurisdictions instituted plans and procedures for mutual-aid interoperability. In fact, these plans are used on a daily basis by most local agencies, greatly reducing confusion for responding agencies.

-- Training. Washington, DC metropolitan area agencies regularly conduct mass casualty and incident drills that bring together the various local agencies to effect a large-scale response. Through these drills, agencies rehearse the necessary operational and communications procedures. Additionally, interoperability training takes form as a daily occurrence for public safety personnel when responding to routine incidents in other jurisdictions and using alternate radio systems to support these operations.

-- Incident Command System. The early establishment and strict adherence to a formal ICS was a key factor supporting successful communications at the Pentagon attack. The ICS was flexible and scalable, and allowed the Incident Commander to track and oversee all facets of the operations.

-- Commercial Services Usage. Major incidents, regardless of location, have shown that commercial service networks are not designed to handle the immense volume of calls generated at or near an incident scene. Responders found that the only reliable form of communications were their own, private land mobile radio systems.

-- Lack of Interoperability Among State and Federal Responders. During the initial response, the majority of local public safety responders experienced no difficulty in establishing interoperable communications on the scene. This was because of the high-level of regional coordination and agreements previously established. However, as the number of state and federal agencies (secondary responders) increased at the site, interoperability presented new challenges. No means of direct interoperability were immediately available to these secondary response agencies.

-- Interoperability Assets Inventory. An inventory list of
interoperability assets (i.e., mobile command vehicles, switches, and extra radios) available in the Washington, DC metropolitan region does not exist.

-- "Total Interoperability" Requirement. First responders require seamless communications. However, the level of interoperability necessary to support operations for secondary, or support responders, has not been documented. The level of interoperability necessary to support effective public safety operations after the first few critical hours is also undefined.

The PSWN Program developed the following recommendations for public safety agencies to enhance communications interoperability in responding to routine and majors incidents:

* Develop regional and statewide communications systems that can support interoperable communications among multiple agencies.

* Establish mutual-aid agreements and standard operating procedures -- not only among local agencies -- but also among state and federal public safety agencies.

* Employ the Incident Command System (ICS) to enhance communications efforts in emergency response situations.

* Conduct mass casualty and disaster response training drills to identify existing capabilities and potential shortfalls.

* Conduct communications asset inventory to identify tools and their capabilities.

* Adhere to common technology standards in the design, procurement, and implementation of future public safety communications systems.

The PSWN Program is a joint initiative sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. The program works with the public safety community at all levels of government to improve wireless radio interoperability

Source: PRNewswire.

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