9/11 Anniversary Highlights Continued Need for Wireless Communications Interoperability Strategy and Planning

As we rapidly approach the tenth anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we now know that the lack of interoperability of the public wireless communications systems in New York City contributed to the loss of life on that tragic day. And while the state of interagency communications has improved greatly since 9/11, we are still not close to having the kind of national—or even regional—interoperability systems we need.

Earlier this year, for instance, state lawmakers in New York sent a strongly worded letter to the President of the United States—as well as all members of the U.S. Congress and officials from New York’s state security agencies—informing them of communications system interoperability problems faced by New York’s first responders. And the problem is not limited to any one local area. An important report from the Government Accountability Office demonstrates that, despite some progress, interagency coordination and other issues continue to hinder a truly effective national approach to seamless wireless communications for homeland security.

As a company that works closely with local public safety officials on these issues, we at BearCom have developed a set of key best practices for interoperability that we gladly share with you here:

  • Step 1: Do a deep review of your current agency communications assets and encourage your fellow local agencies to do the same, with all of you sharing your results in real time.
  • Step 2: After compiling all the results, move as quickly as possible to develop an interagency inventory report that identifies the gaps and barriers in communications capabilities among all of them, including technology, spectrum, SOPs, agreements, training, personnel, and knowledge.
  • Step 3: Develop a specific plan to address these needs in an integrated, systematic way, including ongoing planning, monitoring, equipment, training, and of course, financing. That plan MUST be shared with and endorsed by all governing bodies of the various agencies involved.
  • Step 4: Implement the plan logically but aggressively. Logistical or budget issues may dictate a phased implementation approach, but it is crucial that the overall plan be approved early on and kept on the front burner, or progress could be derailed prematurely.

Most of the agencies that have made the most progress in these areas have brought in outside providers to help in planning and implementing interoperability. An example of a successful engagement is our interoperability project in Freeport, Texas, site of the 13th-largest port in America.

Whether you decide to bring in a partner like BearCom or choose to try to forge ahead on your own, we strongly encourage you to put a strategic plan in place to achieve local/regional communications interoperability. As we saw a decade ago in New York, the potential outcomes of failing to do so are too horrible to contemplate.

This entry was posted in 9/11, BearCom, First Responders, Government, Interoperability, Public Safety, Wireless. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 9/11 Anniversary Highlights Continued Need for Wireless Communications Interoperability Strategy and Planning

  1. Gary Oldham says:

    I’m not sure interoperability has improved all that much since 9/11. We still want to set the rules for our own sandboxes. We still want to use codes instead of clear text because, hey, we’ve always done it that way (and really don’t want to learn from the lessons of others). We’ve spent a lot of money on radios, made a lot of vendors happy, but still can’t talk to whom we need to when we need to. Sometimes it’s poorly designed/deployed technology, sometimes it’s because we haven’t trained, sometimes it’s because we haven’t *designed* the systems with interop in mind, and often it’s because we don’t want to budge an iota from our entrenched way of doing things.

    And we’ve been at this a LOT longer than since 9/11/2001. I was heavily involved in Project FIRESCOPE for a decade or so; that effort started after the Laguna Fire in San Diego County in 1970, and one of FIRESCOPE’s initial charters (and one that remans today) was to improve our ability to communicate with one another. We do that a little better than we did in 1970, but certainly not 41 years better. Technology was a part of the problem in 1970, with disparate frequency bands, limited channel capacity in radios, and other impediments. Most of those technology issues have been overcome, and new ones introduced. Unnecessary complexity, propaganda that has convinced many decision makers that P25 is the panacea to solve all interoperability issues (tell me just WHAT was non-interoperable about two analog–even tube–radios from any manufacturer that were on the same frequency????), and agonizingly Rube Goldberg “interoperability boxes,” are all NEW parts of the problem. And yet the same fundamental human factors remain. Until we all learn to play nice, recognize the need to change and compromise for the common good, and learn to drive the market ourselves rather than gravitating to the latest enticing shiny product a slick sales effort makes catch our eye, we’re going to remain in limbo, a couple years improved over our 1970 state.

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