Safecom to assess public safety wireless communications

Homeland Security Department officials expect to release a solicitation later this month related to a nationwide evaluation of public safety wireless communications.

The Safecom program within DHS' Science and Technology Directorate oversees national efforts to bring together public safety communications policies, practices and technologies. Officials released a statement of requirements earlier this year developed by experts at all levels of government, and they hope that the request for proposals attracts contractors with ideas on evaluating communications technology nationwide, said David Boyd, program manager for Safecom.

"I would expect that we'll have an award before the end of this fiscal year, and we'll have the report back probably mid- to late-fiscal" 2005, Boyd said, testifying before the House Government Reform Committee's National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations Subcommittee.

That status assessment is critical to the future of wireless interoperability. The statement of requirements outlines the status public safety officials want to achieve, and vendors are already adapting their research to align their products with those requirements, Boyd said. And the assessment results will show what needs to be done, he said.

The solicitation will be for a partner to help Safecom officials formulate the best questions to analyze different communications capabilities. The contractor will also help conduct the assessment, which will include interviewing people nationwide who are involved in wireless initiatives. Safecom officials are avoiding written questions because they want to get answers from the people doing the work, not the person who had time to fill out a form, Boyd said.

"We want to know the degree to which they actually have interoperable equipment, they actually have plans for interoperability, the degree to which they multiple agreements with adjacent jurisdictions and the degree to which they're actually communicating with them," he said. "We're also going to be asking about future funding plans, where they're putting together plans to be proposed or they're putting together plans which they actually expect to be funded."

Whether Safecom officials can meet those targets depends on the condition of DHS' new Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, said William Jenkins, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office. DHS Secretary Tom Ridge created the new office in May, and Safecom will become part of it between now and November.

However, it is impossible to tell what the office will be able to accomplish until officials straighten out "its structure, what its authority is, what the funding is, and those are all open questions at the moment," Jenkins said.

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