• High-bandwidth communications—Ability to transmit, from stationary and mobile platforms, high-bandwidth information, such as still images and near real-time video, using common standards and open architecture techniques;

  • Voice communications—Ability to overcome disparate bands, frequencies, and waveform generation techniques to enable regional voice communications interoperability for day-to-day and mutual aid situations.

In October 2001, the NIJ sponsored the National Public Safety Wireless Interoperability Forum. The goals of the forum were to raise public safety wireless interoperability to the national level and to give forum participants the opportunity to develop a list of actions that could be taken to overcome the policy barriers to improving public safety wireless communications.2 The forum’s success led to the creation of the National Task Force on Interoperability (NTFI).

In February 2003, NTFI—a task force comprising members from 18 national associations, state and local elected and appointed officials, and public safety officials—issued a guide for public officials entitled “Why Can’t We Talk?” that reiterated and extended the work done by the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee. The NTFI guide states that the inability of public safety officials to communicate with one another “threatens the public’s safety and often results in unnecessary loss of lives and property.”3 It does note the importance of data communications interoperability, particularly the need for interagency planning and coordination to achieve it. However, the primary focus is voice communications, and it is emphasized that a lack of adequate spectrum for public safety communications is one of the major barriers to interoperable communications.

Although it continues to receive considerable attention, adequate spectrum is not the only (or even the most important) requirement for interoperable communications. The definition of public safety wireless communications interoperability developed by the NTFI and refined by SAFECOM, a program of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, describes interoperability as “the ability of emergency response officials to share information via


See the National Institute of Justice’s information on the National Task Force on Interoperability at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/commtech/ntfi/welcome.html.


National Task Force on Interoperability, “Why Can’t We Talk?: Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap, a Guide for Public Officials,” February 2003, pp. 15-21; available at http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/library/interoperabilitybasics/1159_nationaltask.htm.

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