Department of Homeland Security Launches Office of Interoperability and Compatibility

Critical interoperability issues relating to public safety and emergency response, including communications, equipment and training, will be the focus of the Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, recently launched by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The Office of Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC), part of the Science & Technology directorate, will oversee the wide range of public safety interoperability programs and efforts currently spread across DHS. Specific responsibilities for the OIC will include:

  • Supporting the creation of interoperability standards;
  • Establishing a comprehensive research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) program for improving public safety interoperability;
  • Identifying and certifying all DHS programs that touch on interoperability;
  • Integrating coordinated grant guidance across all DHS grant making agencies that touch on public safety interoperability;
  • Overseeing the development and implementation of technical assistance for public safety interoperability;
  • Conducting pilot demonstrations;
  • Creating an interagency interoperability coordination council; and
  • Coordinating and working closely with the new National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center.

"This office will ensure that Homeland Security is exercising its leadership role to bring local, state and federal efforts together in a partnership that is essential to national progress on interoperability," said Secretary Tom Ridge. "This is a national effort, not a federal effort, and I thank the first responder community for their initiative and collaboration."

The OIC will help leverage public safety community resources by promoting cooperation across all levels of government and coordination among federal programs and activities related to interoperability. As a central clearinghouse for information about and assistance with interoperability issues, the office will reduce unnecessary duplication in public safety programs and spending, and will identify and promote interoperability best practices in the public safety arena.

DHS also is distributing communications interoperability improvement tools – an "Interoperability Continuum" guide and Statewide Communications Interoperability Planning methodology – to leaders in all 50 states and 50 high-threat urban areas.

The Interoperability Continuum, developed through local and DHS collaboration in 10 high-threat urban areas, identifies five critical success factors that communities must consider as they work to improve communications interoperability. The continuum provides guidance for increasing frequency of use of equipment, creating a joint governance structure, developing standard operating procedures, integrating technology solutions with existing systems, and conducting training and exercises. The methodology for Statewide Communications Interoperability Planning grew out of Homeland Security work in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A fact sheet about DHS' efforts to promote interoperability can be found at www.dhs.gov/dhspublic/interapp/press_release/press_release_0529.xml.

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