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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 10:54 GMT
US plans broadband safety network
Apartment complex damage caused by Hurricane Katrina
The proposed system would be used at times of emergency
US politicians have proposed a national wireless broadband network for use by emergency services at times of crisis.

The system, put forward by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), would be built with private companies.

The proposal is a response to the communication problems highlighted during the 11th September attacks and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At the moment the various US safety agencies use a patchwork of different communication systems to stay in touch.

"Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to hear local public safety personnel recount their experiences on the ground during the tragic events of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said Deborah Taylor Tate, commissioner at the FCC in a statement.

"Their eyewitness accounts underscore how important it is that our nation's first responders have access to reliable and redundant communications in the event of an emergency, and how much remains to be done before those tools are available."

Private network

The proposed network would take advantage of a chunk of the radio spectrum already allocated to public safety.

The spectrum, in the 700MHz band, is particularly useful as it travels over long distances and can easily penetrate walls and buildings.

In a bid to make the network state of the art, the FCC has recommended that the system be built in partnership with private companies.

"Our country is teeming with entrepreneurs, willing and able to invest and take the risks necessary to accelerate the development and roll-out of advanced services," said Commissioner Robert McDowell.

"The same market and technological forces that have made advanced wireless services an everyday part of living for the vast majority of Americans can and should be leveraged by the public safety community," he added.

The planned network would use an IP-based infrastructure, the same system that underpin the internet and allows interoperability among many different devices

The final network would be the first time that the emergency services and public agencies would have a fully unified interoperable communications system.

In the UK, the emergency services already have access to a single system, known as Airwave, provided by mobile operator O2. The secure network, which has been rolled out across almost all safety services, is used for voice calls, but also allows limited data to be shared.

Like their US counterparts, the UK emergency services are also considering their broadband needs.

Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC in the US said any decision to implement a new network would fall to the federal government.

"If Congress determines that additional spectrum resources in the 700MHz band should be allocated to public safety, the commission would implement that determination."

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