Experts agree that interoperability – the ability of different responders at local, state, regional and federal levels to communicate with each other – remains a challenge to emergency response. A scorecard assessment of interoperable communications capabilities in 75 urban and metropolitan areas nationwide was released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The reviews focused on three main areas: governance (leadership and strategic planning); standard operating procedures (plans and procedures); and usage (use of equipment). 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 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.”
Chertoff vowed to close the gaps in interoperability by the end of 2008.
Quad Cities Pilot
Raytheon hopes to help narrow those gaps with the launch of the Quad Cities Public Safety Pilot Program, involving response organizations in Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa; and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, Ill.). Genesis Medical Center of Davenport also is participating.
The 6-month program has three critical benefits for first responders and public safety officials:
- Voice, video and data interoperability among and between participating communities
- Remote broadband access to applications already in use by first responders and public safety officials in these communities
- Introduction of new applications and services to enable improved response.
Our goal is to ensure first responders and public safety officials perform with improved speed and efficiency in an environment that provides them with greater safety,” says Bill Iannacci, director, Civil Communications Solutions, a newly formed unit at Raytheon.
Iannacci says the Quad Cities program utilized existing infrastructure services and capabilities of the cities and medical center as the starting point of the system. “It’s using existing the existing infrastructure – leveraging what they have. You can’t go in there and say, ‘You have to purchase all-new equipment.’ This is what they purchased. This is what they’re comfortable with.”
Acquiring buy-in from all parties was crucial, says Iannacci. “It’s not successful if it doesn’t help responders to get the job done more safely and more efficiently and if they’re not comfortable using it.”
Using the existing equipment and infrastructure was important for another reason. “By using existing infrastructure and augmenting it with standards-based solutions, capital expenditures in the communities will be reduced significantly,” says Chuck Saffell, CEO, Nortel Government Solutions, which is one of Raytheon’s partners in the project. Other partners include New Era Wireless, NexPort Solutions Group, DropFire and EAGLE Project.
One of the applications being deployed is Raytheon’s Mobile Enhanced Situational Awareness (MESA) solution. MESA provides remote situational awareness capabilities to commanders in the field so they can track their officers at all times.
The system also offers three options: a fixed, permanent location; nomadic equipment that can be moved from point A to point B, where it is set up to transmit information; and mobile equipment that features full mobility and is ideal for use in high-crime areas or flood-prone areas.
“This public-private partnership will provide critical information to our incident commanders in real time – enabling them to manage emergency incidents safely and effectively,” says Fire Chief Mark Frese of the Davenport (Iowa) Fire Department. “We are just beginning to understand the potential of this network.”
Raytheon has a long history of providing communication solutions in military applications, and the Quad Cities pilot is the company’s most recent initiative to expand in federal, state and local markets.
“Raytheon is increasing its focus on the civil communications market and has the expertise to support first responders and public safety officials perform with improved speed and efficiency so they can provide enhanced safety in their communities,” says Jerry Powlen, vice president, Integrated Communications Systems, a part of Raytheon’s Network Centric Systems business.
The communication system even can be used to deliver training on new topics or offer refresher courses. “We can offer training about avian flu, Miranda rights, equipment they use – whatever topics they want to cover,” says Ianacci.
Iannacci equates the move toward interoperability to something everyone can understand. “If you have a Sony television, you don’t need to buy a Sony DVD player or a Sony VCR. The industry has standardized equipment; found a way to make it all work together. That’s where everything is heading in communications,” he says. “It’s our goal to help you make that equipment work, to help it ‘talk’ to each other.”
In situations in which different responders are called out, sometimes the equipment is talking just fine but the participants are not, Iannacci points out. To avoid that situation, Raytheon employed its Six Sigma process to enhance collaboration among participating communities.
“Our process began with a fundamental tenet of Six Sigma – visualizing success,” says Powlen.
Some of the responder groups involved in the process never had been at a table together. “We changed all that,” says Iannacci.”Part of our process was to facilitate conversations between these groups. Even if the project is a failure – which is highly unlikely – but it still had the positive benefit of facilitating collaboration between these groups, then it was well-worth it.”