Nearly a decade after New York’s Twin Towers were struck by terrorist-flown airplanes, the Department of Homeland Security released a progress report that compares the 9/11 Commission Report's security improvements to those enacted today. Acting Deputy Undersecretary Greg Schaffer of the National Protection and Programs Directorate this week testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs about the DHS report, including the agency’s successes in standardization and emergency communications that supports expanded information-sharing and a focused approach to interoperability.

A top priority for DHS after 9/11 was improving the communications capabilities of emergency responders. To meet the priority, Schaffer said the agency established the Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and the National Communications System (NCS), which was transferred from the Department of Defense to DHS in 2003. NCS is an interagency system of telecommunications assets comprised of 24 federal departments and agencies, each with operational, policy, regulatory and enforcement responsibilities.

“The creation of OEC was an important step toward improving the communication capabilities of those who are often first to arrive at the scene of an incident — the nation’s emergency responders,” he testified.

Currently, the OEC is engaged in a nationwide assessment of emergency communications capabilities. When complete, the assessment will provide “a detailed view of capabilities at the county or county-equivalent level in all 56 states and territories,” Schaffer testified. “This detailed look at emergency communications — the first of its kind — will generate valuable data for both DHS and the states to use to more effectively and efficiently focus future resources and improvement activities.”

In addition, the OEC recently completed Goal 1 of the National Emergency Communications Plan, developed post-9/11, that focused on emergency communications capabilities in the nation’s largest cities. Specifically, the goal said that by 2010, 90% of all high-risk urban areas must demonstrate response-level emergency communications within one hour for routine events involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies. Schaffer said it measured response level by working with the Urban Area Security Initiative regions to assess response-level emergency communications during a real-world event in each region.

“The results have been encouraging,” he said. “Based on the capabilities documented at each Goal 1 event, all 60 urban areas were able to demonstrate the ability to establish response-level emergency communications in accordance with NECP Goal 1. This illustrated how the significant organizational and technical investments made by the UASIs have improved their emergency communications capabilities in recent years.”

Schaffer said the agency also has lobbied for a nationwide, interoperable public-safety communications network by coordinating with the public-safety community, the private sector and Congress. He testified that the administration’s program in support of such a network is a component of its Wireless Innovation and Infrastructure Initiative, which was outlined in its Fiscal Year 2012 budget. The initiative includes an accounting for the foregone auction revenues resulting from reallocation of the D Block for use in the public safety broadband network; $7 billion in financial support for network deployment; $500 million for development and testing of broadband public safety requirements, standards and software applications; and $5 billion for support to rural broadband services.

“The administration is fully committed to working with Congress to ensure the passage of legislation that meets the critical national need of establishing a public safety broadband network,” he testified.