Area first responders bucking 9/11 commission criticism



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Posted on September 1, 2011 at 9:02 AM

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Tucked away in Bellevue's city hall is Norcom.  Norcom is a regional public support agency which handles calls for help to 911 and emergency radio communications for police, fire and emergency medical services for the east King county.

It is a state of the art facility and a model for how things should work.  But in a region wide incident or disaster, different counties and even agencies within a county may be on different systems, using different equipment--struggling to be heard.
"I'm not saying there is not going to be some difficulty in communication there will be," Carla Iafrate with Bellevue Police said.
However, King, Pierce and Snohomish counties are ahead of the curve.
"A lot of people don't know that King county and Pierce county and Snohomish county have the ability to patch our systems together so that basically someone in north Snohomish county could talk to someone in Pierce county," Chris Fischer with Norcom said.
But the 9/11 commission's goal was to set up a national standard for something called interoperability--a fancy word for a simple concept.  Making sure every first responder's radio can talk to every other radio.
But politics has made it a complex problem.  You see the airwaves are broken up into different chunks called spectrums.  The White House wants to give some of it to public safety, while some in Congress want to sell it off.
"It is going to be very important for public safety because spectrum is like gold and that us the challenge getting enough spectrum," Fischer said.
Without it, without that spectrum and without interoperability today's report warns lives can be lost.  
"We've been functioning very well in King county in terms of being interoperable for quite some time and other parts of the country are not so lucky," Fischer said.