Clear and reliable communication is a critical factor in the ability of law enforcement and other public safety officers to respond to emergency situations in a timely, safe, and effective fashion. Officers must be certain that their radios will work each and every time they reach for them. It is no exaggeration to state that in the highly mobile and often dangerous environment in which our officers work, radio communication is a lifeline that can mean the difference between triumph and tragedy.
Unfortunately, because of the massive growth of the telecommunications industry and the limitations of radio spectrum, this critical lifeline has begun to fray. Increasingly, our officers are being confronted with radio interference that either garbles or blocks their communications. To date, there have been nearly 1,000 reported cases of radio interference in 34 states on public safety radios operating in the 800-megahertz band. This interference occurs because radio channels assigned to public safety are intermingled among and adjacent to commercial channels such as cell phones.
In response to this growing crisis, the IACP, through its Communications and Technology Committee and under the leadership of its chairman, Harlin McEwen, has been actively working to solve this problem. For more than two years, the IACP, along with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Sheriffs’ Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, has been working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the Consensus Plan.
Simply put, the Consensus Plan seeks to eliminate 800-megahertz interference by realigning the current jumbled licensing of 800-megahertz systems into two distinct blocks: one block for public safety and private wireless systems, and one block for wireless carriers such as cellular service providers. Creating these separate contiguous blocks for public safety and wireless carrier systems means that interference will be virtually eliminated.
The Consensus Plan has received broad support from the public safety community and other affected organizations. In fact, more than 800 public safety organizations, local governments, elected officials, citizens, and private wireless companies are actively supporting the Consensus Plan.
However, support for the Consensus Plan, while broad, is not universal. The plan is being opposed by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (which represents wireless carriers) and other industry groups. Their opposition has delayed the FCC’s decision on the Consensus Plan and, as a result, the interference problem confronting the public safety community has continued to grow.
The IACP, and its public safety partners, have been working tirelessly to ensure adoption of the Consensus Plan. We have undertaken this effort out of the realization that police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel must be able to communicate with each other to save lives. We understand that radio interference poses a real and growing threat to the safety of our officers and the security of our communities.
That is why I urge all IACP members to contact the FCC and let them know of the danger that 800-megahertz interference poses to the law enforcement community and of your support for the Consensus Plan. To facilitate this effort, please visit the Project Consensus Web site at (www.projectconsensus.org). On this site, you will find additional information on the Consensus Plan as well as sample letters of support for your use.
We, as police chiefs, know that unless immediate measures are taken to alleviate this growing interference problem, public safety agencies will find it increasingly difficult to fulfill their missions, protect the lives of the citizens they serve, and ensure the safety of emergency responders. This is not a situation to be taken lightly. Your help is needed to resolve this problem before a major communications disaster takes place and finds us unprepared and ill-equipped to respond.
I urge you to act today.