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Emergency Communications, Public Alerts, Warnings Legislation Passed Out of House HS Committee

Legislation that would improve interoperable communications for first responders has been passed by the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Introduced by Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), the State Wide Interoperable Communications Enhancement Act, or SWIC Enhancement Act (HR 2206), would require states to have a Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC) or to delegate activities related to achieving interoperability to other individuals.

The legislation was passed out of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications with unanimous bipartisan support last week, upon which it advanced to the full committee for consideration, where it had the backing of House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas).

“After the September 11, 2001 attacks, and again after Hurricane Katrina, the lack of interoperable communications was identified as one of the most significant challenges to an effective response,” Payne said in a statement.

“The derailment of Amtrak train 188 serves as an important reminder that equipping our first responders with the tools they need to do their jobs is not a Democratic or a Republican priority; it’s an American priority,” Payne said last week. “Responding quickly and effectively to emergencies requires robust and ongoing communication between emergency personnel across all levels of government.”

“This coordination is possible because of SWICs, who have the experience and strategic vision needed to educate, train and connect first responders with one another.”

The ranking member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications, Payne said, “There is a clear need for coordinated communication between emergency personnel, especially during emergencies, and this bill is imperative to making sure first responders have the training, education, and communication capabilities they need to protect our communities.”

But, “Without a coordinating body responsible forguiding interoperability efforts,states undermine any gains they have made in emergency communications,” he stated.

SWICs work with emergency personnel across all levels of government, guiding the education and training of first responders and communications staff. They are also responsible for leading all coordination efforts, including statewide planning, and developing a strategic vision for interoperability.

The legislation would require certifications by governors that a statewide interoperability coordinator has been designated, including identification in such certification of the individual so designated, who shall be responsible for:

  • Overseeing the daily operations of the state’s interoperability efforts;
  • Coordinating state interoperability and communications projects and grant applications for such projects;
  • Establishing and maintaining working groups to develop and implement key interoperability initiatives; and
  • Implementing and updating, as necessary, a statewide Communications Interoperability Plan that specifies the current status of state efforts to enhance communications interoperability within the state, including progress or setbacks, and future goals for communications interoperability among emergency response agencies in the state.

“In recent years, states have been able to rely on the Department of Homeland Security’s Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program to support their communications governance structures and their Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (SWIC), who are charged with coordinating interoperability activities across all levels of government,” Payne said.

However, due to the elimination of the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program, and reduced funding for other state and local homeland security grant programs, some states are eliminating SWICs altogether, he noted, adding, “As a result, activities critical to maintaining and advancing interoperable emergency communications policies are not being effectively coordinated.”

The SWIC Act would ensure states maintain the progress that has been made toward achieving interoperability by requiring states to have a SWIC, or to delegate activities related to achieving interoperability to other individuals.

Homeland Security Today earlier reported that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) still hasn’t “fully assessed its risks or established standards of conduct,” or fully assessed risks which “could help FirstNet achieve its objectives and maximize use of its resources,” concluded a 72-page Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit of FirstNet.

In addition, the nationwide public-safety broadband network also “faces difficult decisions determining how to fund the network’s construction and ongoing operations. These estimates indicate the cost to construct and operate such a network could be from $12 to $47 billion over the first 10 years,” GAO said.

“Given that FirstNet faces numerous risks to achieve its complex objectives,” GAO said FirstNet needs to develop standards of conduct to address any performance issues in a timely manner.

Overall, GAO said FirstNet is making steady progress.

A FirstNet spokesperson told Homeland Security Today that "FirstNet is pleased with the GAO findings that we have made progress in establishing an organizational structure, planning the network and consulting with stakeholders. These findings represent the hard work and commitment of the FirstNet team. Wealso agree with the GAO’s recommendations for improvement in certain areas and will fully implement them. As a new organization, FirstNet plans to continue to focus on implementing best practices to supplement the strong progress made to date."

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Today reported, the FirstNet board approved the framework of FirstNet’s proposed acquisition approach to deploy the nationwide public safety broadband network (NPSBN), and authorized the release of a special notice requesting feedback on draft Request for Proposals documents.

The FirstNet board also approved a third public notice seeking further comment on the definition and scope of the term “public safety entity” as used in FirstNet’s enabling legislation. FirstNet Board members underscored the importance of continuing to consult with the public safety community on these items.

“The decisions by the FirstNet Board continue the significant progress FirstNet is achieving toward our goal of implementing the nationwide public safety broadband network,” said FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson. “We look forward to having a meaningful dialog on these two topics with the public safety community, state and local jurisdictions, territories and tribes, and potential offerors to move us along our strategic roadmap toward a final RFP and ultimately the deployment of a dedicated public safety broadband network.”

IPAWS modernization bill passed by House Homeland Security Committee

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Homeland Security also passed the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act (HR 1738), which would improve public alerts and warnings during an emergency and modernize the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS).

“During an emergency, it is crucial that alerts and warnings are both reliable and effective. The public alert and warning systems have not been modernized in decades. My bill makes great strides in achieving that goal,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.).

The legislation would provide for congressional authorization and the framework needed to help provide timely public alerts and warnings in the events of emergencies and natural disasters, Bilirakis explained. The legislation would ensure that alerts and warnings are available to the largest number of people, including individuals with disabilities and those living in rural areas, while also placing an emphasis on protecting and ensuring individual privacy.

A separate bill, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015 (HR 1472), introduced by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Penn.) and reported to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, also would modernize IPAWS and establish a committee to develop and submit recommendations for improving the system would cost $37 million over the next five years, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the bill.

The legislation would authorize the appropriation of $12.8 million per year from 2016 to 2018 for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to modernize and implement IPAWS. The annual authorization level is roughly the same amount that has been allocated for this activity in recent years, CBO said.

IPAWS utilizes multiple technologies (for example, satellite radios, computers and cellular phones) in addition to traditional radio and television communications to provide information about an impending or ongoing emergency situation. The bill specifies several criteria for modernization that IPAWS would be required to meet.

DHS is currently pursuing several of those criteria under Executive Order 13407. Other goals not specified by that order, but which are contained in the bill, include training state and local governments and other stakeholders and ensuring that IPAWS can withstand terrorist attacks.

The bill also would establish an advisory committee to develop recommendations to continue improving IPAWS. Within one year of enactment, the committee would submit a report to Congress outlining those recommendations. However, because the committee would not terminate until after 2018 (the last year in which the bill specifies an authorization level), additional discretionary appropriations would be necessary to continue operations of the committee.

Based on historical expenditures for similar activities, CBO estimated that providing that funding would cost about $1 million over the 2019-2020 period. And, based on the rate of prior spending by DHS for IPAWS, CBO estimated implementation of HR 1472 would cost $37 million over the next five years, assuming appropriation of the specified amounts.

As ordered reported by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure on April 15, CBO estimated that implementing the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues.

The bill would authorize appropriations totaling $38 million over the 2016-2018 period for the DHS, and contains no intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA), and would not affect the budgets of state, local or tribal governments.

CBO said its estimate “assumes that the legislation will be enacted near the end of fiscal year 2015 and that amounts specified and estimated to be necessary will be appropriated for each year.

 

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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