Lessons learned after Sept. 11

Public safety agencies in the Washington, D.C., area did not have many of the interoperability problems reported in New York in the wake of the terrorist attacks last September. Earlier this year, the Public Safety Wireless Network developed a list of lessons learned by those agencies:

* Regional planning and coordination effort — Because of the unique geographical and political environment of the Washington, D.C., area, its public safety leaders realized many years ago that any response to a major incident in the area would be a regional response.

* Training — Area agencies regularly conduct mass casualty and incident drills that bring together various local agencies to effect a large-scale response.

* Incident Command System (ICS) — The early establishment and strict adherence to a formal ICS was a key factor supporting successful communications at the site of the Pentagon attack.

* Commercial services usage — Responders found that the only reliable form of communications were their own, private land mobile radio systems.

* Lack of interoperability among secondary responders — During the initial response, the majority of local public safety responders (first responders) experienced no difficulty in establishing interoperable communications on the scene. However, as the number of state and federal agencies (secondary responders) increased at the site, interoperability presented new challenges.

* Interoperability assets inventory — A list of interoperability assets (mobile command vehicles, switches and extra radios) available in the Washington, D.C., region does not exist.

* Necessity of "total interoperability" — First responders require seamless communications. However, the level of interoperability necessary to support operations for secondary responders has not been documented.

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