Ten years ago, these six people would have had no reason to sit on a panel together.
But on Thursday, almost 10 years after Sept. 11, 2001, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean; Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton; and activists Mary Fetchet, who founded Voices of September 11th, and Carie A. Lemack, who co-founded the Global Survivors Network, to discuss what they’ve learned in the years since.
The panel, held as a part of the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit hosted by the Center for National Policy, Voices of September 11th and the Community and Regional Resilience Institute, discussed issues that they felt needed to be better addressed, starting with the director of national intelligence.
“The key recommendation of the commission was that we had had a failure to share information,” said Hamilton, explaining that the commission hoped that creating a strong DNI position would force sharing across intelligence agencies.
Hamilton and Kean agreed that the position didn’t turn out as strong as they had hoped.
“The legislation is a little bit vague in some areas that we would rather have stronger,” Kean said.
The panel members also discussed the issue of communication among first responders, something they felt has yet to be adequately addressed.
“What first responders don’t have is access to the spectrum to have broadband capabilities so that they can send data and video,” Lieberman said, “basically so that our first responders can have the same capabilities to communicate that the average teenager with a smartphone has.”
Hamilton called the problem a “no-brainer” and expressed frustration that it has not been solved. “It really is an outrage,” he said, “a pure and simple outrage, that 10 years after 9/11 we haven’t solved this problem. Shame on us.”
Lemack agreed. “I still get frustrated ... that Congress hasn’t done its job,” she said.
Panelists laid most of the blame at the feet of broadband companies that are unwilling to set aside part of the broadcast spectrum for first responders, which would eliminate part of the spectrum they could use as part of their business.
Although Lieberman acknowledged the holdup, he said the issue is “a priority for this session of Congress.”
Collins addressed another communications issue brought to light by 9/11: communication with civilians. “We need to modernize our system for communicating with the public in the event of an emergency,” she said, including a reverse 911 system and the use of social media.
Fetchet and Lemack, who were active in fighting for the creation of the 9/11 Commission, discussed the obstacles they encountered when dealing with Washington politics.
“Each Congressman had a narrow view of the world,” Fetchet said. “It was who their constituents were and what the issues were in the districts, and no one really stepped back and looked at the broader picture.”
Despite talking about problems yet addressed and the obstacles that lie ahead, the panelists were not without optimism.
“I have a lot of confidence in our resilience,” Hamilton said, pointing to Fetchet and Lemack as examples. “That’s America at its best.”