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.