Digital TV Revolution Will Boost Crisis Communications Capabilities

For the crisis communicator, there’s an important facet to the much-ballyhooed upgrade from analog to digital TV broadcasts.

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In March, the U.S. Commerce Department unveiled its plan to transition the country to digital TV – including the provision for each household to receive two $40 coupons to be used for converters allowing old analog TVs to receive the new digital signal.

Photo image: u.S. Defense Depratment.

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The Federal government is supporting the digital transformation of television not only to bring a sharper resolution to monotonous C-Span programming, but because it will help free up “much needed spectrum for advanced wireless broadband services and interoperable communications among emergency first responders,” according to the Commerce Dept. news release.

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In other words, digital will allow better coordination among local, state and federal emergency response teams. 

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“The digital transition will enable more efficient use of the nation’s airwaves providing new advanced wireless services and increased public safety services for all Americans,” says Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez in the news release.

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A month earlier, the Commerce Department and the Department of Homeland Security agreed to create and administer a $1 billion “Public Safety Interoperable Communications Grant Program” to help state, local and federal first responders better communicate during emergencies.

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States can start applying in mid-July for a share of the $1 billion that will be set aside from the Federal Communication Commission’s upcoming sale of licenses for the public airwaves that currently carry free, over-the-air television signals, according to a Stateline.org  report headlined: S1 Billion on Horizon for Crisis Communications:

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Those TV frequencies will be turned over to new uses as the nation switches to all-digital TV broadcasts by a Feb. 17, 2009, deadline set by Congress. The extra $1 billion in new federal funds will be targeted at helping state and local governments upgrade their public communications networks so that first responders can talk to each other and to other key players during an emergency.

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In a time of budget cutbacks in state government, these federal dollars will help fund much-needed upgrades in crisis communications readiness. State colleges and universities will be among the public institutions lining up to apply for these funds, particularly after the Virginia Tech tragedy put a spotlight on the need for crisis readiness in a new era.

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- Jon Harmon

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Postscript: For more of the Federal government’s thinking on crisis communications, see the Dept. of Defense’s research paper on the topic. 

Comments

  1. unityworks says:

    I must say the money is needed to boost our crisis communication capabilities. “Access to high speed broadband is increasingly important for police, fire and emergency medical personnel as a means to respond to crises in this post 9-11 world. More than 90% of the nation’s public safety infrastructure is financed, owned, operated, and maintained by more than 60,000 separate, independent local jurisdictions. Currently, public safety personnel operate on 10 different frequency bands, their equipment has been found to be more than 30 years old in some cases, and is frequently incompatible.”
    “When Hurricane Katrina hit, emergency responders from different jurisdictions used different frequencies and could not communicate. High speed broadband would enable first responders to share text, imaging and video across jurisdictional barriers. Fire incident commanders could monitor and direct their units via voice, video and data-enhanced communications either at the scene or remotely. Knowing the exact location of firefighters in a building could mean the difference between going home to a family or not.”
    As a member of CWA I ask you to check out the “Speed Matters Campaign” for more information regarding the need for universal high internet access at http://www.speedmatters.org.

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