FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said this week that the nation lacks a comprehensive plan to provide public-safety agencies with reliable, redundant and interoperable communications systems and suggested that if such a plan weren’t developed soon, the commission would step in. Copps’ comments were in response to the recent 9/11 Commission Report.

“The government still lacks a well-understood, aggressive, nationwide plan to ensure that every public-safety organization has access to a reliable system that they can use anywhere to talk to any other first responder, in any emergency,” Copps said. “That just doesn’t exist today, but it can and it should.”

Copps called the interoperability effort to date a “work in progress,” while pointing directly to the report, which “lays out in chilling detail a state of communications unreadiness that seriously inhibited the country’s ability to respond,” on Sept. 11, 2001. Not much has changed since then, according to Copps, who said the report “minces no words” about today’s lack of public and private sector readiness for another 9/11-style attack.

“Homeland security is not business-as usual or government-as-usual. Meetings, NOIs [notices of inquiry] and draft best practices can only take us so far. We must be focused on implementing integrated solutions,” Copps said.

He stressed that any nationwide interoperability plan should provide “absolute clarity” on the FCC’s role and hinted that the commission is growing impatient. “I think we fit in at the forefront in developing communications solutions,” Copps said. “The country has waited, and we have waited too long for others to get moving.”

Copps added that interoperability shouldn’t be confined just to first responders, but instead expanded to include hospitals and health centers.

“I don’t see that many hospitals, especially in rural America, have a reliable two-way communications system that allows them to communicate with local and federal law enforcement and emergency personnel in a crisis.”

When such facilities do have dedicated systems, they are “seldom redundant,” and are based on the public network, which are unreliable in large-scale emergencies, “as 9/11 and the more recent East Coast blackout proved,” Copps said.