Wicker Introduces RESPONDER Act

Sen. Cochran Cosponsors Legislation That Helps Ensure First Responders Can Communicate During Emergencies

September 11, 2008

WASHINGTON – In an effort to increase emergency preparedness across the nation by ensuring first responders have the equipment they need to effectively communicate during emergencies, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has introduced the Reliable, Effective, and Sustained Procurement of New Devices for Emergency Responders Act, or RESPONDER Act (S. 3465).  The legislation, which was cosponsored by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., establishes a trust fund and grant program to ensure first responders in all communities – especially small communities – are able to afford interoperable handheld communication devices. 

“Both the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina shed light on significant problems with first responder communications systems across the country,” Wicker said.  “While a great deal of progress has been made to ensure first responders are able to communicate with one another during emergencies, little has been done to prepare communities for the high cost associated with replacing and upgrading their handheld communication devices.”  

Sen. Cochran added: “During events like Hurricane Katrina, the ability for first responders to communicate across jurisdictions is critical to saving lives and responding to emergencies. When meeting with law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical officials, I am often reminded that the federal government lacks a dedicated grant program to assist these officials with their communications needs. This legislation would generate revenue from the sale of the federally-regulated communications spectrum and return that revenue to our first responders so that they can upgrade their communications capabilities.”

As interoperable networks for emergency communications come online in the future, states and local governments will be faced with the considerable burden of paying for new handheld communication devices for first responders that utilize new standards and networks established by states and the federal government.  Wicker said these costs amount to a significant hurdle that could affect preparedness levels.

“One of the greatest challenges, especially for small communities like many across Mississippi, will be the local cost associated with achieving one of the final steps of communications interoperability – purchasing new first responder radios,” Wicker said.  “This legislation will ensure all state and local governments have access to a long-term funding source needed to keep them prepared for future emergencies.” 

The RESPONDER Act creates an annual grant program to help communities cover interoperable communications device costs that have the potential to cripple small communities’ budgets.   A trust fund would be established to pay for the grant program, using proceeds from the U.S. government’s auction of radio airwaves known as “spectrum.”  The trust fund would be funded initially by proceeds from an upcoming auction, with a continual stream of funding to be drawn from a small percentage of future spectrum auctions to maintain the fund’s solvency.