voice and data signals on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized.”4

The NTFI guide identifies five key barriers to public safety communications interoperability:

  • Incompatible and aging communications equipment,

  • Limited and fragmented budget cycles and funding,

  • Limited and fragmented planning and coordination,

  • Limited and fragmented radio spectrum, and

  • Limited equipment standards.

The Summit on Interoperable Communications for Public Safety, held in June 2003, was a joint effort among the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), DHS’s SAFECOM program, and NIJ’s AGILE program. The summit, which brought together a variety of participants from federal, state, and national programs created to assist public safety practitioners, produced a briefing book listing the various programs and agencies at all levels of government involved in ongoing interoperability efforts.5 The summit was intended as the initial step in familiarizing key interoperability players with the work being done by others so that mutually beneficial coordination and collaboration among the various technical programs could be established. The summit was also meant to provide insight into where additional federal resources might be warranted and to help stakeholders maximize the limited resources available across all government levels by leveraging program successes and developing standards, approaches, products, and services for the benefit of all.

One of the clear messages from the summit was that interoperability should be built from the bottom up. That is, interoperation of communications must be built starting at the state, local, and regional levels with guidance and support coming from the federal level. Under this framework, federal programs such as DHS’s SAFECOM and NIJ’s CommTech see their role as assisting state and local law enforcement agencies to communicate effectively and efficiently with one another across agency and jurisdictional boundaries.6

4

See http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/interoperability/default.htm.

5

Summit on Interoperable Communications for Public Safety, “Briefing Book of Public Safety Related Groups and Programs on Interoperable Communications and Information Sharing,” NIST, Gaithersburg, Md., June 26-27, 2003, 85 pages. The list in the briefing book is the basis for the estimation that more than 60 programs are involved in various aspects of interoperability.

6

The CommTech Web site notes this focus, stressing its role as a facilitator; see http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/commtech/welcome.html.



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