Gov. Martin O'Malley joined Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington on Thursday to call for a national wireless broadband network for public safety officials that he said would address the communications breakdowns that took place during the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Speaking to public safety officials in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, O'Malley noted the state's recent effort at developing interoperable radio networks that are accessible to officers and firefighters from different cities and counties.
"In a background where we see some really damaging cuts to homeland security grants, this day is a bright contrast, a real solid movement forward," the Maryland Democrat said. "There's absolutely no reason why teenagers should be more advanced in their technology in doing video games than our first responders are in protecting lives."
President Barack Obama has pushed for better communications system for first responders, which was one of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Legislation sponsored by West
Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat, would raise money for a nationwide network by allowing entities that control a segment of radio spectrum to voluntarily give up those frequencies in exchange for a portion of the proceeds from their sale.
Rockefeller's bill was approved June 8 by the Senate Commerce Committee. Biden said he is confident federal money will be directed to the effort, despite the recent emphasis in Washington on cost-cutting.
"The money is going to be there," he said, noting Rockefeller's proposal. "I promise, we're going to be able to get this done, because it has to get done."
The meeting also included John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and a former governor of Arizona, and Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
Last November the state's Board of Public Works approved a $485 million contract to start work on a statewide communications system. On an interim basis, 23 of the state's 26 jurisdictions have regional interoperability, according to the governor's office, and state officials hope to have the three remaining counties online by the end of the year.