The last couple of weeks have been interesting, to say the least, for those who live on the Eastern Seaboard. First, an earthquake powerful enough to knock groceries off shelves hits the state of Virginia. Then Hurricane Irene wreaks havoc from the Carolinas to New England. Predictably, these latest hissy fits from Mother Nature have elicited the mantra from public safety that it needs its own dedicated broadband network.

I’m not going to address that today, because it no longer needs addressing. Stating that first responders need better communications technology is analogous to opining that it’s far better to be healthy than sickly. Yes, it is ludicrous that the people who need rescuing have far more sophisticated communications devices than most of the first responders who are sent to save the day. Everybody gets it. That includes — I am convinced at this point — the movers and shakers in Washington, who so often seem slow on the uptake.

What I am going to address is the item written by Senior Writer Donny Jackson (click here). In it, he reports that the current word on the street is that the end of September would be the earliest that Congress would enact legislation that would reallocate the 700 MHz D Block spectrum to public safety and provide significant funding for the buildout of a dedicated nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders.

That’s going to bother many in public safety. Some are even going to start feeling a bit panicked. That’s because the sector fervently hoped that such legislation would be signed into law by President Obama on Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. It wasn’t because of any feelings of poignancy or poetic justice that such an event would elicit. Rather, public safety’s leaders see the anniversary as a key driver that will disappear once it passes. I suspect that it’s the same feeling that a football coach gets after watching his team drive all the way down the field after starting at its own one-yard line, only to see the drive stall on the opponent’s 10-yard line. It’s late in the game, and as he watches the clock tick inexorably to 0:00, the coach begins to wonder, are we ever going to be able to get the ball over the goal line?

What I’ve just described is exactly what public safety has accomplished over the last several years, and that is a victory of sorts. Just getting to this point is a remarkable achievement. What sane person would have predicted, when all of this began, that public safety would get this far? Most people didn’t think it would, metaphorically speaking, pick up even one first down. And yet, here it is, with the goal line just a few yards away.
But, sticking with the football analogy, no team is interested in hollow victories, so it is imperative that public safety gets the ball over the goal line. There are two key factors in doing that. The first is that public safety needs to be aware that, even if the 9/11 anniversary comes and goes, there’s still plenty of time on the clock. This game hasn’t reached the fourth quarter; in fact, it’s not even halftime yet, so there’s no need to panic.

The second is that public safety needs to stick with the very effective game plan that got it this far. There’s no need for trick plays. Just keep pounding away at the line with the unified message that has resonated with key members of Congress and their senior staffers.

During this month’s Association of Public Safety Communications Officials conference in Philadelphia, several of those staffers were on hand to provide an update on the status of the enabling legislation that public safety covets. They all said that, despite the speed bump that the legislation hit recently, there still exists strong bipartisan support for it. They urged attendees to let their representatives in Washington know that this network is vital. They suggested that this be done in the legislators’ home offices, away from the nation’s capital, which was described as a “cacophony of chaos.”

Congress will be back in session right after Labor Day. You have just a few more days before they head to the airport. Pick up the ball and run with it.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.