Oct 03 2006
Cantwell introduced measure at request of Washington National Guard
BELLINGHAM, WA – Tuesday alongside local leaders and law enforcement officers at Bellingham Police headquarters, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced final Congressional approval of legislation to improve communication among state, local, federal, and Canadian law enforcement and security agencies in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Cantwell-sponsored legislation was included in the 2007 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Appropriations Act, given final approval by Congress late Friday night. The president is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.
“All along our northern border, local, state, federal, and Canadian first responders are unable to coordinate their emergency response efforts because their communication technology is incompatible,” said Cantwell. “We learned about the problems posed by this lack of interoperability during September 11th and again during Katrina. We can’t allow this to continue any longer. With the Olympics coming to our region, we need to make sure that all our first responders, border personnel, and their Canadian counterparts can communicate quickly and coordinate effectively. Border crossings will be at an all-time high and security officials must be able to respond rapidly to any potentially dangerous situations and keep border traffic moving.”
Cantwell’s proposal, introduced at the suggestion of the Washington State Military Department, requires the Department of Homeland Security to work with the State Department, the Federal Communications Commission, and the state governments of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska to develop a plan for interoperable communications. Once Cantwell’s proposal is signed into law, DHS has six months to complete the plan and submit it to Congress, leaving enough time for federal, state, and local governments to apply for the federal funding needed to implement the plan in time for the 2010 Olympics. Once that the plan is completed, first responders on both sides of the border will be able to take advantage of improved communications in their day-to-day operations.
“As thousands of extra visitors pass through our state, the Olympics should be an exciting time of celebration and pride, not security problems or massive border delays,” added Cantwell. “These smart, practical steps are critical to keeping our border traffic moving, and, most importantly, ensuring the safety of our residents.”
Cantwell’s interoperable communications amendment was added to the Senate’s version of the DHS appropriations bill in July, and Cantwell worked with her colleagues to make sure it remained in the final version of the legislation passed by Congress Friday night and sent to the president for his signature.
A comprehensive plan that addresses both the technical and operational aspects of effective communication is a key part of securing the public safety and smooth border crossing needed to boost Washington’s tourism industry during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Thousands of international visitors will pass through U.S.-Canadian air, land, and maritime border crossings in conjunction with the Olympic events and effective emergency communications across all levels of government will be vital.
The 2007 DHS Appropriations Act also includes a measure sponsored by Cantwell to ban construction of border tunnels, and authorizes pilot programs to patrol the northern border with unmanned aerial vehicles and test a new system for scanning all U.S.-bound cargo containers at three foreign ports.