Safecom requirements laid out

Safecom's Statement of Requirements

For the first time, the nation's first responders have a single document that spells out their needs for wireless communications interoperability, which public safety agencies can incorporate into ongoing and future programs.

Homeland Security Department officials filled the gap with the release of a comprehensive statement of requirements last week.

Until now, there's been no nationally accepted definition of what interoperability means or when and why it's needed, said David Boyd, director of the Safecom program, which developed the 192-page document.

"What's different is that, for the first time, in a single place we have what the first responder community says is what they need for a variety of real operational scenarios, from a traffic stop all the way to a major explosion in a chemical factory," he said. "This is a much more systematic process working with first responders to get down into the nuts and bolts of exactly what capabilities they need in a real-life kind of scenario."

This consensus is important not only because of the breadth of needs outlined in the document but also because it represents the needs of the users at every level of government, said Stuart McKee, chief information officer for Washington state.

Although communications interoperability has been a priority for officials nationwide for years, this is the first time there has been a document developed with this level of consensus, McKee said.

Boyd characterized the statement of requirements as a living document that will grow and address future needs to include data, images, video and other capabilities. Therefore, it is not technology-specific.

The document, he said, will provide industry with information about the capabilities they should incorporate into systems for first responders. But he also said it provides state agencies and local communities with a powerful tool to justify their communications needs to lawmakers.

"That's an expensive exercise for a local community to go through," Boyd said. "Here they have something to point to and say, 'Look, this is what the nation's experts from a broad array of agencies say ought to be included.'"

Safecom's statement of requirements comes eight years after the last major federal report issued by the now-defunct Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee on wireless communications for the 50,000 public safety agencies nationwide. But unlike that document, Safecom's new report does not focus on spectrum issues.

Boyd said the White House Task Force on Spectrum Management will issue a report on radio spectrum by the end of the year. Officials wanted to focus on baseline requirements that will help address spectrum, technology and other problems.

The statement of requirements also addressed a recent General Accounting Office report that criticized the Safecom program in the past for its slow progress and cited the need for detailed agreements among all involved.

Safecom officials have at least one solicitation for interoperability solutions already lined up to be based on the requirements. The broad agency announcement should result in the award of two to four contracts this summer, using up to $6 million that the department has set aside for the initiative, said Thomas Coty, director of technical solutions for Safecom.

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