More than 50 senators have been issued satellite phones for emergency communications, people familiar with the arrangements told CBS News, amid growing concerns about security risks for members of Congress. The devices are part of a series of new security measures handed out to senators by the Senate sergeant at arms, who took over soon after Attack on the US Capitol On January 6, 2021.
100 senators offered satellite phone technology. CBS News has learned that at least 50 people took the phone, which Senate administration staff advised senators to keep close during their travels.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee last month, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson said satellite communications are being deployed “to ensure a redundant and secure means of communication during a disruptive event.”
Gibson said the phones are a safety backstop in an emergency that “takes over the communication system” on parts of America. Federal funds will pay for the satellite airtime needed to use the phone devices.
An adviser to the Department of Homeland Security said satellite phones are a tool for responding and coordinating government services in the event of “man-made” or natural disasters that wipe out communications.
Gibson also opened an office “demonstration space” in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building to give senators and staff a demonstration of the new home state office security upgrades. The demonstration room offers demonstrations of “door buttons”, mail screening devices and safety glass to reduce the risk of attack.
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In his testimony before a Senate panel in April, Gibson reported, “Our team has provided initial physical security enhancements for 31 offices and enhanced existing security for 52 others in 2022. Maintaining security systems in good working order is a priority, and to support these efforts Our team handled more than 622 service calls in 2022 to maintain, repair, and test and inspect the State Office’s physical security systems.”
Senate administrators have proposed “stop the bleeding” training to better equip staff to respond to medical emergencies and assault victims.
In April, House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland told lawmakers there was “strong participation” in a program to help House members secure their homes. McFarland said House administrators are coordinating with local police departments to protect members of Congress who hold events in their home states and help better secure members’ homes.
A spending bill passed in late 2022 provided additional funding for Hometown Security measures for Congress. The legislation requires security administrators to “enhance member protection, including providing a security program for Congressional Leadership, expanding Dignity Protection Division services, and expanding the presence of USCP field offices,” which would deploy and expand Capitol Police protection to cities outside of Washington.
Although the US Capitol complex is guarded by a force of nearly 2,000 Capitol Police employees, concerns about hometown security for members of Congress are growing. A California man was charged in the 2022 attack on then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home. The assailant allegedly targeted Nancy Pelosi when she confronted and attacked Pelosi’s husband, Paul, with a hammer.
In a May 15 attack on Rep. Gerry Connolly’s VA office in Fairfax, one of Connolly’s members was charged. Attacked two Congress workers With a metal baseball bat. Both were briefly hospitalized and are recovering.