IF ONLY WE TREATED FIRST RESPONDERS THE WAY WE TREAT OUR ATHLETES

Dec 8, 2011 4:56 PM, By Glenn Bischoff 

A couple of days ago, I moderated a webinar during the inaugural IWCE/UC virtual trade show that focused first on the myriad opportunities that broadband communications will create for cities across our land and then the challenges that stand in the way of making broadband a reality. I’ll be writing more about this free session over the next couple of weeks, but I hope that you’ll take the time to view it in the meantime. The panel consisted of Bill Schrier, the chief technology officer for the city of Seattle; Don Denning, the chief information officer for public safety for the city of Boston; and noted wireless consultant Andrew Seybold. All have appeared on our webinars in the past, and they did their usual superb job during this week’s event.

The first challenge we chatted about concerns funding. That’s always the big one, though governance looms large, as well. The bottom line — pun intended — is that it doesn’t matter how cutting-edge the technology is, if you don’t have the money to deploy, operate and maintain it, it has no value. One can wish for a yacht, but if a canoe is all that one can afford, it’s time to grab a paddle.

The panel expressed hope that the federal government eventually will provide the funding needed to build the nationwide broadband network for first responders that has been the subject of great speculation and debate for almost six years. I then asked, what happens if the feds don’t come through. Does the whole thing vanish into the ether? The panel’s consensus thinking was that the network still would be built, but it would take a lot longer to get it done. I’m not quite as optimistic, so I fervently hope that Congress will come to its senses and finally do what needs to be done. I’ve grown weary of all the rhetoric that this project has strong bipartisan support. That’s beginning to sound like, “The check’s in the mail.” If the support truly is as strong as we we’ve been told, shouldn’t it be done by now?

Maybe the reason it isn’t done yet is that the political process in our country is so screwed up that everything takes far longer to accomplish than it should. I mean, how many pieces of legislation do we need for this? They all purport to do the same thing — reallocate the D Block to public safety and fund the network buildout. Does the fact that so many bills are floating around Capitol Hill right now speak to the complexity of this initiative or to the notion that members of Congress generally want to make sure that they have their stamp on important, ground-breaking legislation in order to make a better case for their re-elections?  I suspect that it has more to do with the latter.

Mulling all of this over the past couple of days reminded me of a column that I had wanted to write last summer, but never got around to it. One beautiful day, I decided to take some time off and drive to the Chicago Bears training camp, which is open to the public at no charge for the first few weeks. I had never been to a Bears training camp, mostly because I’m not really a football fan. Despite this, we went, because it was something different to do — and, like I said, it was a beautiful day.

After we found a spot on a large grass berm, my eyes were drawn to a punting drill. I watched attentively as one player — known appropriately enough as the “long snapper” — flung the football backwards through his legs to the punter. Each time he did, the ball flew in a nice, tight spiral, just like it’s supposed to. From what I understand, this is a unique and very important skill to have on a football team, so crucial that it is the only job that the Bears’ long snapper — a chap named Pat Mannelly — has. Mannelly is so good at it that he has been doing it for 14 years.

Let’s examine this for a moment. Last year, Mannelly was paid $770,000 for his services. During that season, the Bears attempted 30 field goals, 35 extra points and 85 punts, which means that Mannelly executed the grand total of 231 snaps. It also means that he made $3,333 each time he tossed the pigskin through his legs. I don’t care how tight his spirals are, that’s a boatload of money.

I am writing this not to take a cheap shot at Mannelly — everything I’ve ever read about him leads me to believe that he’s one of the good ones, a model teammate and citizen. And I’m not singling out football players — that they are obscenely compensated can be said for professional baseball, basketball and hockey players, as well.

Rather, I am taking a shot at our society, specifically at how absurd it can be at times. People — including those who work on Capitol Hill — think nothing of shelling out a hundred bucks to watch an NFL game. They shell out tons more for concessions and novelties, which cost so much largely because of what the players are paid.  And they will shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to build stadiums and arenas, if it means attracting a team to their city or keeping one from leaving. But taxpayers — the same people who fill these stadiums and arenas — increasingly are recoiling in horror when they’re asked to support the public-safety sector, because of the economic pressures that are being placed on their towns and cities, due to falling tax revenues and evaporating grant programs.

We can’t find the money to provide police officers, firefighters and EMT personnel with decent salaries and pensions. In some areas of the country, we can’t find the money to keep fire stations open and adequately staffed, or to make sure that our streets are adequately patrolled. We can’t find the money to keep public-safety answering points operating in the manner that we need them to operate. And we have yet to find the money needed to deliver next-generation communications capabilities to first responders — the nation’s true heroes — that will make them better at what they do and keep everyone safer in the process, even though we’ve been talking about it for years

But, somehow, we don’t think twice about a long-snapper making more than three grand every time he touches the ball. Something is very, very wrong with this picture.