We always know when we've hit a nerve with one of our columns, because the volume of e-mails spikes. This week was no exception, as readers weighed in on whether the federal government should take a leadership role regarding interoperable communications by forging a national interoperability plan.

If you missed last week's column, I suggested that it was time to do so. The Department of Homeland Security's Project SAFECOM valiantly has tried to jumpstart interoperability by tying federal grants to a region's ability to reach consensus, without much success. It's simply not going to get done, much less in a timely manner, if interoperability is left in the hands of local officials, each of whom has a different agenda.

Reader reaction to this suggestion was mixed. Most were in favor, but a few cringed at the idea of federal involvement, given the red tape and delays that generally accompany anything that Washington touches.

One response came from Charles Werner, chief of the Charlottesville (Va.) Fire Department and a member of the SAFECOM advisory committee. Werner, who regularly contributes to the First Response column that appears in MRT's print edition, defended SAFECOM's performance, citing the fact that it has had little money at its disposal and didn't even become a line item in the DHS's budget until this year. "How much do you think they're going to get done, if they have no money? My argument would be that if you could have as many public agencies do what SAFECOM has done with no money, we'd all probably get a tax cut."

Werner's point is well taken. There is no denying that SAFECOM has worked extremely hard and has had some success, particularly in its development of a statement of requirements for interoperability. But it has become clear that its hope that the lure of millions of federal dollars would be enough to get local officials off the dime has been dashed. It's time for a new approach.

But before it can figure out the approach that officials on the local and county levels should follow, the federal government needs to get a better handle on what its own approach is going to be. Several federal agencies in addition to SAFECOM are working independently on interoperability. One of those is SPAWAR (Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command). Nick North, a SPAWAR radio communications engineer, conceded that a more consolidated and coordinated effort would be a good idea.

"There are a lot of parallel efforts happening, and the problem with parallel lines is that they never intersect. So, those are issues," North said.

Issues that we'll explore in greater detail in upcoming Wavelengths.

E-mail me at gbischoff@primediabusiness.com.