Magazine article Law & Order

Managing Interoperable Communications

Magazine article Law & Order

Managing Interoperable Communications

Article excerpt

WHY CANT WE TALK?

SUMMARY

Four factors inhibit agencies from communicating: 1) incompatible communications technology, 2) limited planning in updating and incorporating communications technology, 3) limited and fragmented radio spectrums, and 4) lack of coordination and cooperation veen agencies. Here are some solutions.

Every local law enforcement agency must plan for communications interoperability to effectively manage an emergency within their jurisdiction. What is the "best practices" way for a local jurisdiction to effectively address the challenges of public-safety communications interoperability?

The goal of interoperability is to facilitate effective communication among various agencies in an emergency situation. One challenge in establishing interoperability is the decentralized nature of law enforcement in the United States. Most critical infrastructure is made up of local agencies, meaning infrastructure differs in each city and the federal government will not get involved in an emergency situation until it is asked to do so.

Four factors inhibit agencies from communicating: 1) incompatible communications technology, 2) limited planning in updating and incorporating communications technology, 3) limited and fragmented radio spectrums, and 4) lack of coordination and cooperation between agencies.

Four Challenges

First, there are outdated (20- to 40-yearold) communications technologies in use. Repairing these systems becomes increasingly costly as the necessary parts are no longer manufactured. Aging technology can obviously put the public and public safety officials at risk. Ine solution to fixing incompatible radio systems is the use of switching system technology to patch across the different radio systems.

Second, mere is limited planning in updating and incorporating communications technology. In the event of a large-scale incident, interoperability requires that many agencies be able to communicate with each other. When developing a radio system, agencies usually consider only their needs rather than looking at how their radio system can interface with other agencies' systems. Thus, multiple agencies rarely coordinate their radio systems prior to investment; interoperable communication men requires special patches, which can be expensive and risks loss of information in the event of a glitch.

Third, there is a lack of space in the radio frequency spectrum. Because the spectrum is a finite resource, only certain bands of frequencies are available for public safety use. According to the report Why Can't We Talk? (2005): "Public safety interests have to share radio spectrum with television broadcasters, radio broadcasters, government users, cell phones, and other products such as a garage door opener.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has allocated certain frequencies to public safety, but these are inadequate and scattered across the spectrum, making it difficult for different agencies and jurisdictions to communicate." While previously public safety radios were only able to work at lower frequency, technology has improved and public safety radios can now transmit at higher frequencies.

Currently there are about 10 bands that have been allocated to public safety use. However, because these 10 bands are not all together in one part of the spectrum, the system remains fragmented.

Fourth, agencies lack coordination and cooperation. Although agencies are reluctant to give up control of their radio systems, they may need a single agency to function as the hub for the radio systems. Agencies need to consider pooling their resources, including money, in order to benefit the overall system.

International Interoperability Standards

The federal government has tried to address the problem of incompatible communication technology by creating the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO) Project 25 (P25). …

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