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Senators were given satellite phones as part of new security measures in preparation for a “disruptive event.”

May 22, 2023

More than 50 senators have been provided satellite phones for emergency communication, according to persons familiar with the arrangements. The gadgets are part of a set of new security measures being supplied to senators by the Senate Sergeant at Arms, who took over shortly after the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Satellite phone technology has been made available to all 100 senators. According to CBS News, at least 50 senators have received the phones, which Senate administrative staff urge senators keep near to them while traveling.

Last month, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee that satellite communication is being used “to ensure a redundant and secure means of communication during a disruptive event.”

Gibson stated that the phones are a safety net in the event of an incident that “takes out communications” in a portion of the United States. The satellite airtime required to use the phone devices will be paid for with federal funds.

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According to a Department of Homeland Security statement, satellite phones are a tool for responding to and coordinating government services in the event of a “man-made” or natural disaster that disrupts communication.

Gibson has also established a “demonstration space” in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building to show senators and employees the new home state office security measures. The demonstration area features exhibits of “duress buttons,” mail screening devices, and safety glass to lessen the risk of attacks.

Sergeant at Arms in the United States Senate Karen Gibson testifies before a Senate Appropriations panel on April 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
Sergeant at Arms in the United States Senate Karen Gibson testifies before a Senate Appropriations panel on April 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images
Gibson testified before a Senate hearing in April, saying, “In 2022, our team provided initial physical security enhancements for 31 offices and improved existing security for 52 others.” Maintaining security systems in excellent working condition is a responsibility, and to support this effort, our staff made over 622 service calls in 2022 to maintain, repair, test, and inspect state office physical security equipment.”

Senate administration have also conducted “stop the bleed” training to better equip personnel to respond to medical crises and victims of attacks.

In April, House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland told legislators that there is “robust participation” in a program to help House members secure their primary homes. McFarland stated that House administration are coordinating with local police departments to help protect members of Congress who attend events in their home states and to help better secure members’ houses.

A budget package passed by Congress in late 2022 included more cash for homeland security measures. The legislation required security administrators to “enhance member protection, including providing a security program for Congressional Leadership, expanding Dignitary Protection Division services, and expanding USCP field office presence,” which would deploy and broaden Capitol Police protection in cities outside of Washington.

Despite the fact that the United States Capitol complex is guarded by a force of approximately 2,000 Capitol police officers, there have been mounting concerns about members of Congress’ residential security. A California man was charged in the 2022 attack on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home in San Francisco. The assailant was allegedly looking for Nancy Pelosi when he confronted and struck Pelosi’s husband Paul with a hammer.

In a May 15 attack on Rep. Gerry Connolly’s Fairfax, Virginia, office, one of Connolly’s constituents is accused of attacking two of the congressman’s aides with a metal baseball bat. Both were briefly hospitalized and are already recuperating.

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