ORLANDO--A Department of Justice representative speaking yesterday at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials conference here proposed the creation of federally funded interoperability liaisons in the 10 cities at highest risk for a terrorist attack.

The liaisons ideally would be a retired public-safety official who would be the face of the federal government on a local level, said Robert Zanger, a DOJ attorney who currently is the program manager for the department’s 25 Cities Program, which was established about three years ago to establish baseline interoperable communications in the 25 cities at highest risk for terrorist attack.

“They would provide a built-in point of contact in each city who would know what’s going on,” Zanger said. “Local first responders have full-time jobs, and it’s not interoperability.”

Zanger acknowledged that the liaison concept is at a very nascent stage. “This is not a DOJ proposal, much less a Congressional proposal,” Zanger said. “I’m not sure how to get it done, because I don’t work in that world much.”

Funding such an initiative will be a challenge, if history is any indicator. The 25 Cities Program was seeded with $25 million taken from the Integrated Wireless Network project, a collaborative effort by the DOJ, Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury to provide nationwide federal wireless network that would support first responder communications. Spread across 25 cities, the money wasn’t enough to purchase new equipment, “so we tried to leverage existing systems,” Zanger said.

Zanger has a realistic view of the funding hurdles that would have to be cleared to create an interoperability liaison program—“I can’t say that I’ll be funded [long-term] to keep some of the [current] solutions alive”—yet he is convinced that more money needs to be found for people resources.

“Right now, a significant amount of money is being set aside for equipment, but virtually none for people,” Zanger said. “People are the most important part of these solutions.”

It was a sentiment echoed several times during the session. Jose Perez, regional communications systems manager for the Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, said, “Talking to people is how it works.”

Dan Guild, telecommunications manager for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, agreed: “Relationships are the key, the big factor.”

Currently, the 25 Cities Program has been completed in 11 cities. According to Perez, the program made a big difference in the Miami metropolitan area, where disparate dispatch switches were connected using phone lines, prior to the program’s advent.

“The delay was terrible,” Perez said. “If you tried to connect Broward County [near Miami] to Monroe County [Key West], you could get a cup of coffee before the call would connect. Box circuits take time to set up.”