Where’s the bacon?
Risk is a funny thing. Sometimes it helps spice up up life, like racing sail boats through eight-foot swells on Lake Michigan or B.A.S.E. jumping off cliffs in Norway. But the reality is, every day is filled with risk. There are constant murmurs of terrorism, gang activity and domestic violence in our daily news feeds. Cops are shot and killed. Firefighters lose life and limbs responding to a scene. And U.S. citizens seem to be constantly waiting, on edge, for the next big event, whether it’s an attack on the country’s infrastructure or from Mother Nature’s wrath. Even getting into our cars and commuting to work is risky business. No one is truly safe.
So people turn to technology in the hope it will provide a security blanket. Citizens plug into world events through PDAs and mobile phones. And the country’s first responders test wireless bridges, ad hoc networks and video surveillance systems to gather criminal data and prevent an incident before it happens. It’s not cheap. Millions of dollars have been spent to reorganize and leverage spectrum to support public-safety communications. In addition, even more funds have been spent on interoperable systems so disparate agencies can communicate during a massive event.
But from where will the money for future deployments come? The U.S. government just spent $700 billion to bail out the financial sector from an unprecedented mess borne of questionable lending practices and foolish borrowing decisions. Meanwhile, myriad public-safety agencies across the country wait for funding for much-needed communications systems that help protect all lives.
Kris Wulf, a firefighter for the Michiana Shores (Ind.) Volunteer Fire Department wonders the same thing, asking “where’s the bacon?” The department has filled out grant requests, held fundraisers and begged the local village council for additional radio-communications funding. But it always falls short, Wulf said. The idea that a team of volunteers could raise enough money to invest in—let’s say—an 800 MHz radio system, is just a pipe dream. In fact, he believes the day will never come when his group can upgrade systems and respond to a county-wide event with true situational awareness.
It’s a prevalent feeling. With budget shortfalls, layoffs and the ever-present political maneuvering, first responders seem to constantly get shafted. It’s not like they are asking for the world: just enough money to upgrade their communications systems so they can effectively serve their communities while at the same time protect their colleagues.
Wulf said his team of firefighters often yells to communicate with each other while at an incident. Our government can find three-quarters of a trillion dollars for a financial bailout, but it can’t find $20 billion to build a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders. That’s insane. Our first responders deserve better. The return on investment from protecting lives will always outweigh the cost of the investment. It’s common sense. And it should be our nation’s top priority.
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