On the morning of September 11, 2001, as fires raged on the upper floors of the World Trade Center towers 1 and 2, New York police in helicopters, fearing imminent collapse of the buildings, radioed to their on-the-ground commanders to evacuate their officers.
Most police were able to evacuate, but firefighters inside the building didn't hear the command because they used a different radio frequency.
The buildings crumbled and hundreds of firefighters, some still ascending the WTC stairs to rescue trapped citizens, lost their lives along with so many others.
An unspeakable tragedy was made worse because of inadequate communication networks among agencies.
The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks recommended an initiative to bolster emergency communications nationwide. It called for the creation of a mobile broadband network dedicated to first responders.
But twelve years later, in April, Boston area first responders experienced similar communications difficulties during the marathon bombings.
It took longer than it should have, but last year Congress finally acted on that recommendation with a push from U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., among others.
A system called FirstNet will be a start-of-the-art, high-speed wireless broadband network that, the senator says, will revolutionize first responder communications nationwide.
FirstNet will become the first nationwide, high-speed network that enables police, firefighters, EMS workers and other state and federal first responders from across jurisdictions to communicate seamlessly when they're responding to natural disasters or other crises.
FirstNet will increase collaboration to help emergency responders save more lives, solve more crimes, and keep communities safer.
The current high threat level of the nation's embassies in the Middle East from potential al-Qaida attacks reminds us that the potential for terrorism, both on and off U.S. soil, remains strong.
Implementing an enhanced first-responder communication program will fulfill the last major remaining recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It's well past time to provide first responders with the tools they need to make them more effective and keep us safer.
Thanks to Sen. Rockefeller and the others who finally pushed it through.