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Ten years after 9/11, emergency radios still lacking


Radios Credit: Office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

The radio system that failed the city’s emergency responders on 9/11 are still insufficient nearly 10 years later, first responders say, and Congress needs to do something about it before another catastrophe.

Jim Riches, a retired deputy fire chief who lost his firefighter son in the attacks, believes “more people are going to die,” if a better radio system isn’t developed that allows emergency responders — like the FDNY and NYPD — communicate with one another and sister agencies around the country on a nationwide, wireless network.

“We could possibly have another attack and the radios wouldn’t work again because these people haven’t done their jobs,” Riches said of legislators.

Even though the radio problems aren’t new, and were even stressed in a 9/11 Commission Report, legislation for the network has stalled. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, a co-sponsor of the bill introduced last year, said her colleagues were to blame.

“The solution to this national security problem hasn't languished due to a lack of technological know-how,” Gillibrand (D-NY) said at a news conference Wednesday. “It has languished due to a lack of political will by Congress.”

Ali Gheith, Director of the Emergency and Disaster Management Program at the Metropolitan College of New York, said although the city has made “tremendous improvements” in radio technology at the local level, the new legislation would get all first responders across the country on the same wavelength.

“What they are trying to do is bring to [to first responders] that simple technology,” teenagers have on their smart phones, Gheith said.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the news conference that 300 NYPD officers sent to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans were unable to communicate because they couldn’t access their frequency.

Al Hagen, President of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said although improved radio communication is needed in New York, the problem is more widespread.

“I’m terribly disappointed it’s taken this long,” he added. “It seems like an absolute no-brainer.”

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