Only eight states had statewide interoperability plans in place when the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP)—an initiative that established nationwide goals for emergency communications—was launched in July 2008. Today, all 56 states and territories have such plans, according to Chris Essid, the Department of Homeland Security’s director of the office of emergency communications, who last week provided an update on the plan during the International Wireless Communications Exposition (IWCE) in Las Vegas.

“That’s a major accomplishment and huge progress,” Essid said.

Essid said he was encouraged that 51 of the 56 states and territories had requested workshops that would provide guidance on how to best implement the plan. Many of the workshops already have been conducted, and the remainder should be completed sometime in June, he said.

There’s still plenty of additional work to be done. The NECP established 92 milestones, of which only the first 11 have been completed. However, Essid noted that each of those initial milestones was completed on time. “That’s pretty good,” he said.

Essid likened the task of getting the NECP in place—and the progress made to date—to running a marathon.

“We’ve only completed the first five miles of the marathon,” he said. “But no one ever finishes a marathon without completing the first five miles.”

Also encouraging is that public-safety officials are beginning to understand that achieving interoperable communications—the primary goal of the NECP—depends on much more than technology, he said. “It’s not about technology. Rather, it’s about establishing a common way of doing things.”

The ability to establish a common approach depends on public-safety officials leaving their silos and thinking regionally. Significant progress has been made in this area, but there’s still a long way to go, according to Essid. The NECP is aligned with the goals of DHS’ SAFECOM grant guidance, but only about half of the grants submitted reflect this guidance.

“That’s not good enough. We need this guidance used across all grants,” Essid said. “We’re not done.”

The DHS has scheduled an NECP workshop in Chicago for April 22-24. More information can be obtained at www.nationalecconference.com.