SkyTerra added the Infrastructure Satellite Mutual Aid Radio Talkgroup (I-SMART) to its family of SMART talkgroups. I-SMART is the first talkgroup to enable interoperable communications between public and private entities, said Tom Surface, the company’s spokesperson.

"The talkgroup was established to touch as many public-safety and public-service organizations that require interoperable communications [as possible],” Surface said. “We saw an opportunity to work with the public utilities, which were not previously able to participate in talkgroups because they were privately owned.”

The SMART group was developed by the Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and operates on SkyTerra’s satellite communications network. The talkgroup will serve government and private-sector critical-infrastructure agencies, including transportation and utility or public-works entities involved in water, electricity, gas and petroleum industries throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. Surface said utilities now can have interoperable communications with similar facilities as well as with first responders entering the facility, such as when personnel arrive on scene to restore electricity because of widespread outages.

"The talkgroup is a good way for first responders to come in and communicate on a tactical as well as an operational level,” he said. “For example, a group going into the Gulf region from the Midwest can immediately begin talking with other organizations that are responding — they can be the utility-repair people or first responders.”

Working with SkyTerra, the SPU’s Office of Emergency Management will manage the talkgroup, provide constant monitoring and approve participation in I-SMART by government and appropriate private-sector users with a critical-infrastructure/public-works mission. The OEM provides guidance as to whether the agency meets the criteria of a public utility to participate. If they qualify, then SkyTerra adds the organization to the talkgroup.

"It’s an approval process to make sure the organization is who they say they are,” he said. “We wouldn’t someone who isn’t in the infrastructure system to try and join if they don’t qualify.”

Interested organizations must subscribe to SkyTerra’s network and purchase the company’s equipment to participate, Surface said.