Tech shows sharing is possible

Three men with radios stood at different ends of a large meeting room. One

held a radio operating on a VHF frequency, another on a UHF frequency and

the third on an 800 MHz frequency. Using the radios alone, the men could

not talk with one other. But with the aid of a portable communication switch,

the three men showed that interoperability among radio technologies is possible.

The demonstration came during a session on anti-terror technologies

at the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting in Washington,

D.C., Dec. 6. It showed that information sharing and communication among

the 50,000 fire, rescue and law enforcement agencies nationwide is possible

with such technological advances.

"It is an interim solution," said Thomas Coty, a senior program manager

at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and one of the three men demonstrating

the technology. "It's not the end all, be all, but it's not bad."

The costs of such technologies are high, he said, adding that a lack

of funding and technical standards, governance issues and the proprietary

technology developed by only a handful of vendors have contributed to interoperability problems.

He also said that public safety agencies lack radio bands that could share

a large contiguous spectrum.

Coty said one solution toward the interoperability problem was the creation

of a National Task Force on Public Safety Communications Interoperability.

The task force was formed following an October meeting and is sponsored

by the Public Safety Wireless Network, mostly made up of appointed and elected

officials from state and local governments. It also has the support of 17

other national organizations.

The new task force, scheduled to meet in late January, will act as a

conduit to educate government officials about the need to develop a database

of users for the 700 MHz frequency when that spectrum becomes available,

help deploy communications switches and use an interoperability model being

developed by agencies in and around the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Other anti-terrorism technology presented during the session included

biometrics — specifically, the use of facial-recognition technology, which

involves cameras scanning and capturing a person's face and then matching

it against a database to determine the person's identity.

Chris Miles, an NIJ program manager, said Hollywood has glamorized the

use of such technology, but many issues surround its effectiveness, such

as lighting, the angle and size of a face, the quality of the image and

the need for a high-end computer to process the image.

Facial-recognition technology is just one of several emerging technologies

that law enforcement agencies are using. Miles also said many want digital

video systems, event- and motion-detection systems, image-enhancement technology

and rapid search capabilities.

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