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Katrina Spotlights Spectrum Issue

The issue of spectrum for fireman, police and other emergency workers could well come up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

One of the themes of the coverage starting Wednesday was a lack of communications among emergency workers, including the frustration of a Col. Henry Whitehorn speaking for the L.A. state police, who said they continued to have trouble communicating with first-responders.

Another policeman, facing a fire at the gateway to the French Quarter, asked CNN to pass along to his colleages, who he could not communicate with, that the fire had broken out and potentially threatened the quarter.

Commerce Committee Member Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) told B&C in an e-mailed response: "I am closely following the communications failures in Katrina hit areas." 

"Many public officials in the region are naming communications failures as a primary concern. Local state and federal officials require seamless communications in times of crisis," he said from Baghdad, where he was on a fact-finding trip. "This is a further demonstration of our inadequate response to the 9/11 Commission's recommendations and other warnings about the failures in our first responders' communications systems," he said"As Congress soon tackles the DTV Transition, we must be mindful of these challenges and ensure public safety, emergency response and interoperability remain our paramount focus."

Senator John McCain's office was not available for comment--the Senator was in Italy--but the Arizona Republican has repeatedly criticized broadcasters and the pace of the return of analog spectrum for, among other things, emergency communications. He has invoked 9/11, saying that if there were another disaster, the continuing lack of communication could cost more lives.

Tom Campo, spokesman for Hearst-Argyle, whose WDSU New Orleans has been in the center of the storm and aftermath, said that if there were any such specturm debate, it should promote a dialog in Washington about what broadcasters do with the spectrum they have. In terms of Katrina, that has included reporters putting themselves at risk from looters and more to stay in the city and help others, including some who have lost their own homes and possessions.

Campo said he hoped FCC critics of broadcast public service were paying attention to stations' efforts to serve their community, or as NAB President Eddie Fritts put it earlier in the week: "They are staying on the air when at all possible, and against all odds."