DHS: Can We Talk?

A scorecard assessment of interoperable communications capabilities in 75 urban and metropolitan areas nationwide has been released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Interoperable communications involve policies, technology and training that enable law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services from multiple jurisdictions in a common community to effectively communicate within one hour of an 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," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "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."

Since 2003, DHS has awarded $2.9 billion in funding to enhance state and local interoperable communications efforts.

While scorecard findings will not directly impact homeland security grant funding, it is expected that eligible communities will use the scorecard to target their investment justifications and improve interoperable communications capabilities.

The reviews focused on three main areas: governance (leadership and strategic planning); standard operating procedures (plans and procedures); and usage (use of equipment). The evaluation criteria was derived directly from the SAFECOM Interoperability Continuum and Interoperability Maturity Assessment Model that depicts the key components of interoperability - governance, standard operating procedures, usage, technology and training and exercises.

The findings identify gaps and areas for improvement. Key findings include:

  • 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.

The scorecards illustrate the current capability for each area and provide recommendations for improvement.

The reviews were conducted by five panels of subject matter experts composed of state and local public safety and communications technology experts, in addition to representatives from the department's Wireless Management Office and SAFECOM, a communications program within the Office for Interoperability and Compatibility.View the interoperable communications report and findings at www.dhs.gov.

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