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How America's Fragmented Approach to Public Safety Wastes Money and Spectrum

Jon M. Peha

Carnegie Mellon University

September 1, 2005

Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC), 2005

Emergency responders such as firefighters, police, and paramedics depend on reliable and ubiquitous wireless communications. Failures in these communications systems can cost lives. Particularly since 9/11, there has been great concern about the possibility of failures due to lack of interoperability, and failures due to a shortage of public safety spectrum. This paper shows how both of these and other serious problems are a logical consequence of America’s fragmented approach to public safety, in which thousands of local agencies make independent decisions without a coherent strategy to unify or guide them. Because of this fragmented approach, public safety agencies build more infrastructure than they should, spend more tax-payer money than they should, and consume more scarce spectrum than they should, all for a system that is unnecessarily prone to interoperability failures. This paper also considers the most widely cited estimates of public safety’s spectrum needs, which predict a serious shortage unless considerably more spectrum becomes available to public safety by 2010. We show that estimates for the amount of spectrum needed in 2010 would be vastly lower if the US adopted an effective national strategy that included coordinated planning and modern technology. On the other hand, if the US retains today’s fragmented approach, regions where coordination among local public safety agencies is particularly weak may need more spectrum than popular estimates would indicate, leading to an even greater shortage. We conclude that the federal government should start playing a large role in setting the direction of public safety communications, rather than leaving this to many independent local governments.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 18

Keywords: Spectrum, Public safety, First responder, Emergency, Homeland security, Interoperability

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Date posted: March 27, 2016  

Suggested Citation

Peha, Jon M., How America's Fragmented Approach to Public Safety Wastes Money and Spectrum (September 1, 2005). Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC), 2005. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2753771

Contact Information

Jon M. Peha (Contact Author)
Carnegie Mellon University ( email )
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
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