Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in a speech delivered this week at the Tactical Interoperable Communications Conference in Washington, D.C., said interoperable communications for first responders is critical to enhancing the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Chertoff admitted that interoperable communications should have been solved after 9/11, but blamed the delay on the complexity of melding different local, state and federal agencies’ cultures and structures under one communications umbrella.

“It is a task that is very formidable and requires not only a technological element, but also an element of governance, an element of how we deal with each other in terms of very different organizations and very different chains of command,” he said.

He further called for the development of standard operating procedures by the end of 2006, including a consistent, common verbal language used between agencies; proper governance; agreements in training; and an overview of how each new technology can be used for interoperable communications.

To boost this effort, DHS’s SAFECOM program will send a National Interoperability Baseline survey (see story) to 23,000 first responders nationally over the next two weeks to determine the state of interoperable communications throughout the United States. This will lead to a year-end scorecard to identify gaps in coverage and areas of improvement, Chertoff said.