Efforts to coordinate communications are complicated by the fact that emergency response to a large-scale incident has many dimensions, including direct on-the-ground action and response, management of the incident response team, operations, logistics, planning, and even administration and finance. Moreover, response teams are likely to include personnel from local, county, state, and federal levels.39

Research in a number of areas can advance the state of the art for emergency-response C3I systems, thereby improving their effectiveness for terrorist incidents. In addition, the development of better C3I systems for emergency response will have application to responding to natural disasters as well.

Ad Hoc Interoperability

Different emergency responders must be able to communicate with each other, but poor interoperability among responding agencies is a well-known problem—and one that is as much social and organizational as it is technical. The fundamental technical issue is that different agencies have different systems, different frequencies and waveforms, different protocols, different databases, and different equipment.40 At the same time, existing interoperability solutions are ad hoc and do not scale well.41 Moreover, the nature of agencies’ missions and the political climates in which they traditionally operate make it difficult for them to change their communication methods. Thus, it is unlikely that agencies will ever be strongly motivated to deploy interoperable IT systems.

Exercises may help identify and solve some social and organizational problems, but rivalries and political infighting about control and autonomy will probably remain. It is for this reason that the notion of uniform standards to which the communications protocols of different agencies will adhere is not likely to be an adequate solution to problems of interoperability. Indeed, such exercises are of particular value precisely because they help to reveal the rivalries and infighting whose resolution is important to real progress in this area.

The communication process somehow has to work within this reality of organizational resistance.42 In the ideal case, communication among the myriad agencies that respond to a crisis would be done smoothly through at least three different phases. In the first phase, the initial responding agencies immediately deploy their ad hoc communication structures, using their existing communication facilities and equipment. In the second phase, the agency-specific communication structure transitions to one that is systemwide. In the third phase, the


CSTB (1999a), p. 7.


CSTB (1999a), p. 26.


CSTB (1999b)), p. 119.


CSTB (1999a), p. 27.

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