The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM Program yesterday issued a Statement of Requirements designed to guide public-safety agencies nationwide through the unwieldy process of achieving interoperable communications.

The SOR, for the first time, provides the nation’s approximately 50,000 public-safety agencies with a “shared vision” in terms of how to use “in-the-field information resources” more efficiently when responding to a variety of emergency events, according to SAFECOM. The SOR also offers guidance on how the communications industry can better align its research and development efforts with the needs of public safety.

The 192-page document presents in detail a variety of emergency scenarios—and the suggested responses—that first responders on the local level, regardless of whether they are located in rural areas or major cities, will likely encounter at some point. The emphasis on local first responders was by design, according to SAFECOM Program Director David Boyd.

“We want to get communities at the lowest possible level to sign on to a set of definitions for interoperability," Boyd said. “The reason is that if you’re going to solve interoperability in the states, you have to start from the bottom up.”

The reason, according to Boyd, is that more than 90% of the wireless public-safety infrastructure is “owned, operated and maintained” primarily on the local level. “If you don’t have them on board, you can’t build to national interoperability. They’re essentially the key drivers.” Boyd said.

In addition to providing public safety with a road map to interoperability, the SOR also provides a useful tool when seeking funding at the local level, according to Boyd.

“This provides the document and—we hope—part of the business case that they can take to their funding activities, whether it’s the state legislature, the city council or the county commissioners,” Boyd said. “They’ll be able to say, ‘This is what we ought to have, this is a national document that talks about how we should be able to [communicate].’”

Boyd described the SOR as a “critical step,” but reminded that it is merely a first step designed to provide a baseline for future iterations. The next step, which will begin this year, will determine the level of interoperability nationwide. “In the course of doing that, we intend to create a methodology that we can continuously update, so we can have an annual scorecard on the level of interoperability in the United States.”

Though compliance with the SOR is voluntary, Boyd urged every public-safety agency nationwide to put it into practice. “We’re convinced you’re not going to resolve interoperability in any meaningful way in the United States unless you do it from the lowest level up.”