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Public Service Matters: Improving our Emergency Communications


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This is the second in a series of columns by Senator Jay Rockefeller on 2012 legislative accomplishments

During my first week as Governor, the rivers and creeks in Mingo County overflowed their banks. It caused terrible destruction across the region.

When I flew to the Mingo County airport to survey the damage, I found the communications were so poor--so spotty--that it took the West Virginia State Police three days to establish a line of communication from the airport on top of a mountain to Williamson, barely a mile away. Back then, we just didn't have the technology to address these serious lapses.

Now that technology exists and soon we'll have it nationwide because of a new law I authored in 2012.

My Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act was included in legislation that passed last year. It is historic public safety legislation because it will, for the first time, build a nationwide, high-speed network that lets police officers, firefighters, EMS workers and other first responders communicate seamlessly when responding to natural disasters or other crises. It creates a modern, efficient way of wirelessly sharing crucial, urgent information to keep West Virginia and America safe.

The new law will help prevent communications failures during major weather events and other critical situations. We tragically learned from the inability of first responders to communicate with one another at Ground Zero on 9/11, and the lack of communications resources at Upper Big Branch.

That won't happen again because we were able to take a big step forward last year. I am deeply proud of this major new safety and security advance. And it's so important to West Virginia -- where we see our fair share of natural disasters and challenges that test our resolve, along with new opportunities -- like the Boy Scout Jamboree -- that will demand seamless communication.

As we begin the 113th Congress, with a positive change like this underway, I have continued optimism in the good that public service can do. And as this law is put into action, we'll finally see the improvements we need to safeguard our neighbors, ready our first responders, and not miss a call when emergency strikes.

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