Safecom absorbs public safety network

SafeCom Program Office

The Public Safety Wireless Network, a joint program between the Treasury Department and the Justice Department and a valuable resource on interoperable communications for state, local and tribal communities, has officially been folded into Project SafeCom.

"It's like starting a new program with a lot more oomph to it," said Rick Murphy, deputy manager with SafeCom and formerly a PSWN program manager for Treasury. Being folded into SafeCom will enhance the issue of interoperability on the legislative and administrative levels as well, he added.

Established as one of the Bush administration 24 e-government initiatives, SafeCom serves as the umbrella program overseeing all initiatives related to public safety communications and interoperability. It is housed within the Homeland Security Department's Science and Technology Directorate.

PSWN, which operated as a separate program since 1997, was formed by the federal government based on work by the Federal Law Enforcement Wireless Users Group (FLEWUG), an ad hoc group of federal radio managers who met to address spectrum issues, interoperability and other challenges related to public safety communications.

The network has been a how-to resource program -- holding workshops and informational meetings around the country, sharing best practices, and publishing guides for state and local public safety agencies to address coordination and partnerships, spectrum, funding, standards and technology and security. It was created soon after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which exposed the lack of communications among first responders. The issue got even more attention after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- government officials said the inability of New York City firefighters and police officers to talk with one another through their radios led to many deaths.

States, local and tribal governments are "getting a little more bang for the buck, so to speak, with the SafeCom initiative," he said. "Now you can pool the resources, make sure there's no redundancy [and have] greater coordination with other programs that are out there. It really, really does enhance the program and the delivery of quality and quantity of services to the public safety community."

Not only will SafeCom coordinate all interoperable activities throughout the nation, including other federal agency initiatives, but it will also provide a better picture of national improvement through a more detailed national interoperability index. PSWN officials had published a "state of interoperability" for states, which basically rated their level of maturity in several areas, including shared systems development, coordination and partnerships, funding, standards and technology, spectrum and security.

Murphy said the next interoperability index, which will be completed in December, will get "down into the weeds" -- rating how well local, county and metropolitan areas are talking with their neighboring jurisdictions.

"And that will be the baseline to say here's where we are in total interoperability and then we're going to take this measuring stick again every year and tell you how much we've improved over that," he said.

For the time being, the PSWN Web site will exist, but eventually the appearance and contents will have that "SafeCom brand flavor," he said.

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