DHS Scorecard Shows Progress, Gaps in Communications

Jan. 4, 2007
According to a report released Jan. 3 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), cities "have come a long way" in implementing systems that allow law officers, firefighters and EMS personnel to communicate after an emergency. However, the report shows that some cities lag behind and that only a few have completed a strategic plan for regional interoperable communications.

DHS developed a scorecard to assess the progress that 75 urban and metropolitan areas have made in their tactical interoperable communications capabilities. According to DHS, the term "tactical interoperable communications" is defined as "the rapid provision of on-scene, incident-based, mission-critical voice communications among all first responder agencies (i.e., EMS, fire and law enforcement), as appropriate for the incident."

"The 9/11 Commission identified interoperable communications as a major challenge and many communities listened by taking the sometimes-difficult steps necessary to close communication gaps among first responders," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "Their experience proves that basic interoperability at the command level is achievable. We're committed to making this a priority in every major urban area, and we'll continue to push for closing these gaps by the end of 2008."

DHS notes that the Tactical Interoperable Communications Scorecard, as the agency calls its, "represents the first measurement of the maturity of communications interoperability in urban/metropolitan areas across the nation."

Key Findings

Among the key findings of the scorecard:

  • Technology exists to permit interoperable communications (which was pointed out in a previous DHS assessment), but solutions often are not available regionally and are far from seamless in many areas.
  • Policies for interoperable communications are now in place in all 75 urban and metropolitan areas.
  • Regular testing and exercises are needed to effectively link disparate systems and facilitate communications between multi-jurisdictional responders (including state and federal).
  • Cooperation among first responders in the field is strong, but formalized governance (leadership and strategic planning) across regions is not as advanced.

As for the last point, the DHS report asserts that "few urban/metropolitan areas have developed strategic plans specifically for regional interoperable communications – including sustainable funding plans."

"The scorecard process highlighted how multi-agency communications has been addressed with many jurisdictions, but regionalizing the existing communications strategies to identify longer-term interoperability goals across multiple jurisdictions and levels of government should be addressed," the report says.

Cleveland, Detroit Lag Behind

The scorecards evaluate the 75 metropolitan and urban areas in three areas: governance (leadership and strategic planning); standard operating procedures (plans and procedures); and usage (use of equipment). They illustrate the current capability for each area and provide recommendations for improvement.

The metropolitan and urban areas that have made the most progress in their tactical interoperable communications capabilities include Columbus, Ohio; Minnesota's Twin Cities; San Diego; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Washington, D.C.

According to the scorecard, the areas that are lagging behind include Baton Rouge, La.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Detroit; and Toledo, Ohio.

DHS said it is distributing the scorecards directly to all 75 urban and metropolitan areas "to focus their regional efforts to improve tactical interoperable communications." Meanwhile, the agency said it will use the scorecards "to focus technical assistance programs and target specific areas of improvement in communications interoperability."

Since 2003, DHS has awarded $2.9 billion in funding to enhance state and local interoperable communications efforts. However, according to the agency, the scorecard findings will not directly impact homeland security grant funding.

To view the summary report and scorecard, click here.

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