Progress being made in radio communications

Standards are aiding efforts to create interoperable communications for first responders, a NIST official says.

SAN DIEGO – Significant progress has been made in the past year in creating standards for interoperable radio communications for first responders, a top federal communications official said today.

“For the first time, we’re able to say things are changing, things are moving,” said Dereck Orr, program manager of the Office of Law Enforcement Standards at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Orr spoke during a panel discussion on interoperable communications at the Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference and Exposition, which the Homeland Security and Justice departments sponsor.

In October, Project 25 (P25), a public/private partnership to create standards for interoperable radio communications, adopted a fixed station interface and a console interface, Orr said.

Public safety agencies are already starting to reference the standards in their procurement requests, and vendors are building new products to meet the standards, he said.

A third standard, the Inter RF Subsystem Interface (ISSI), is on track for adoption by March 2006, Orr said. The ISSI is one of the most important standards because it allows different jurisdictions to interoperate, he said.

Because the ISSI standard is IP-based, it will allow the use of P25 radios across a much larger geographic area, said Joe Heaps, program manager at Justice’s National Institute of Justice.

All three standards will be complete by the end of 2006, Orr said.

P25 has existed for the past 15 years, but as of last year, it had completed only one of eight proposed interface standards, Orr said.

Language in the Senate’s fiscal 2005 appropriations for Commerce, Justice and Science states that NIST would develop interim interoperability standards if P25 developers did not make working standards available in 12 to 16 months, Orr said.

P25, first responders and vendors did not want a top-down mandate, Orr said, so they worked diligently during the past year to tackle the standards.

The four standards that are complete or nearly complete were the hardest of the eight, Orr said. He predicted that the remaining four will probably take less time to complete than the first four.

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