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Schneier on Security by Bruce Schneier

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Chapter 7. Security and Disasters

First Responders

Originally published in Wired, 23 August 2007

Ilive in Minneapolis, so the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River earlier this month hit close to home, and was covered in both my local and national news.

Much of the initial coverage consisted of human interest stories, centered on the victims of the disaster and the incredible bravery shown by first responders: the policemen, firefighters, EMTs, divers, National Guard soldiers, and even ordinary people, who all risked their lives to save others. (Just two weeks later, three rescue workers died in their almost-certainly-futile attempt to save six miners in Utah.)

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these stories is that there's nothing particularly amazing about them. No matter what the disaster—hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack—the nation's first responders get to the scene soon after.

Which is why it's such a crime when these people can't communicate with each other.

Historically, police departments, fire departments, and EMTs have all had their own independent communications equipment, so when there's a disaster that involves them all, they can't communicate with each other. A 1996 government report said this about the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993: "Rescuing victims of the World Trade Center bombing, who were caught between floors, was hindered when police officers could not communicate with firefighters on the very next floor."

And we all know ...

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