Interoperability report card: PSWN grades the progress
A new “report card” released in May by the Public Safety Wireless Network Program shows that the majority of U.S. states are taking significant steps to increase the interoperability of their public safety wireless communications systems.
This nationwide report card, which is the first of its kind, provides a baseline assessment indicating where the nation’s public safety interoperability efforts currently stand. Interoperability refers to the ability of public safety employees from one agency to communicate via radio with workers from other agencies, on-demand and in real time.
Using data collected from key public safety employees at the state level, the report card assessed each state’s interoperability status in six key areas:
shared systems development.
coordination and partnerships.
standards and technology.
These six areas were charted individually for each state and then combined to form a composite state interoperability score. Those scores were tiered into four levels of states’ readiness: mature, established, developing or new. The corresponding map on page 20 shows each state’s ranking.
Delaware and Michigan are leading all states and were given a rating of “mature.” Mature states have obtained interoperability within their region through the development of statewide systems. These states are actively seeking ways to enhance or to improve their systems’ capabilities and possibly to include additional participants.
Established states are advanced in the interoperability process and are implementing interoperable, shared systems. These states have formalized sharing arrangements with multiple levels of government. These states include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin.
Developing states are in the early phases of using their acquired knowledge of interoperability. These states are engaging key legislative and public-safety leaders to craft strategic plans for system design and engineering.
States that are relatively new to the interoperability process are in the early stages of identifying potential solutions to interoperability issues.
This national report card is a solid first step in assessing where states are in improving interoperability. For instance, Delaware has successfully implemented a digital 800MHz trunked radio communications network. This network provides statewide coverage for more than 7,000 local, state and federal agencies. The system enables emergency responders from all agencies to communicate with each other during an event.
Michigan is also a leading model for public-safety communications. Michigan has successfully implemented a digital 800MHz trunked radio communications network that covers 83 counties and 56,000 square miles. Michigan began replacing its crumbling state-police radio system because police agencies were all operating on different frequencies or equipment, and they often could not talk with one another via radio.
These and other improvements to radio communications systems have enabled certain states to achieve true interoperability among public safety agencies. State public safety agencies benefit from having interoperability because a shared system provides greater privacy, better security, improved communications efficiency, better incident management and increased trooper and emergency responder effectiveness.
The PSWN Program will now use the report card’s findings and work with individual states on developing technical approaches and policy-oriented solutions to meet their interoperability challenges. While the results do show states such as Delaware and Michigan leading the charge nationally, the report card is meant to serve as an impetus for policymakers to determine steps that can be taken to advance interoperability on a state-by-state basis.
This report card is just one of the many resources the PSWN Program is providing to the public safety community to help it improve its interoperable systems. The PSWN Program, an initiative that began in 1996, is jointly sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. The program works with the public safety community at all levels of government to improve interoperability. The goal of the PSWN Program is to ensure that no man, woman or child loses his or her life because of the inability of public-safety agencies to communicate with one another.
The PSWN Program has taken a two-phased approach to planning and fostering interoperability. Phase I focuses on conducting studies and demonstrating pilot solutions to better understand interoperability challenges. Phase II focuses on providing implementation assistance services to give public-safety agencies sustainable strategies for improving interoperability. Although implementing interoperable systems takes a long time, the PSWN Program strives for incremental progress and widespread interoperability within five to ten years.
Interoperability is key to public safety officials’ abilities to perform at the highest levels possible. We ask that the mobile radio community promote the message of interoperability to help make it a reality.
Public safety officials can find out more about their states’ ratings and become familiar with the PSWN Program’s activities by visiting the PSWN Program’s Web site at www.pswn.gov, or by calling 1-800-565-7796 (1-800-565-PSWN).
Siegle is a special agent with the FBI and is the unit chief/program manager for PSWN within the FBI’s laboratory division. Murphy is program manager for PSWN with the Department of Treasury. Both co-chair the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group.