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Congress Tries, Tries Again

In the wake of the communications failures that followed Hurricane Katrina, and with the specter of Sept. 11's interoperability problems still looming, five senators last week proposed legislation to help first responders communicate with one another during an emergency. Maybe the third time's the charm: Two past attempts by Congress to ensure interoperable communications during catastrophes have failed.

The bipartisan effort, introduced by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., last Monday, sped through committee on its way to the full Senate and would provide $400 million next year to develop emergency communications capabilities, with that number increasing to $1 billion by 2010.

If it passes, the funding proposed by the bill could help fund more communications systems like the one the St. Tammany sheriff's office has in place. The sheriff's office was the only local agency in the Louisiana parish of 210,000 residents whose emergency communications systems held up during the hurricane. Credit for that goes to a decision made three years ago to invest $8 million to build a sturdy, interoperable, digital 800-MHz communications system.

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