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Emergency Response Gets Full-Court Press

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and in the face of Hurricane Rita, a new pan-media emergency communications response -- coordinated between national and local levels -- is on a lot of front burners in Washington.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) Thursday announced the introduction of a bill, The Communications Security Act of 2005, requiring the Department of Homeland Security and the FCC to work together to develop back-up communications systems that would employ satellites, wireless and terrestrial services.

“Our first responders make the greatest commitment to our country by protecting us in times of disaster," said Kerry. "It is unacceptable that four years after 9/11 we are still putting them on the frontlines without reliable communications equipment.”

Kerry was preaching to the choir in the case of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who hours earlier had recommended in testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee a flexible emergency communications system for first responders that employed various media.

Kerry told B&C he was pleased with Martin's recommendations, especially the chairman's support for spectrum for first responders and the need for interoperability aomng communications devices. Kerry said he will "closely monitor"  the situation.

Before the day was done, a bipartisan block of Commerce Committee members had introduced the Warning, Alerts, and Response Network (or WARN, in the acronym-happy world of bill names).

The bill would allocate a quarter billion dollars to develop a system of geographically targeted alerts across TV, radio, cable, satellite, BlackBerries, cell phones and non-traditional media.