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Industry is pushing for communications interoperability for first responders via the Internet.

Interoperability is one of the biggest thorns in the side of emergency response, said Dean Zanone, customer solutions manager at Cisco Systems, at the Infragard 2006 National Conference in Washington, D.C.

“Interoperability is the chokepoint of first responders,” he said. Zanone is also a retired sergeant who worked at the Seal Beach, Calif., Police Department.

As a first responder, he found being part of a fragmented communications string frustrating. He said that in responding to car accidents, he was sometimes forced to make judgment calls about how crash victims might have been injured and relay that information to doctors.

“This is pretty important information to put into…a communications chain,” Zanone said.

He demonstrated Cisco’s IP Interoperability and Collaboration System, which uses the Internet to connect walkie-talkies, voice-over-IP phones, push-to-talk cell phones and computer voice messaging programs. On Sept. 11, 2001, radios ran out of batteries and communication lines were stunted, but Internet connectivity still functioned, he said. Using that as a basis for all communications would allow more prepared first responders.

Not all first responders are eager to jump to a new system, Zanone added. Although fire departments usually recognize the value of an interoperable communications system, police departments are less inclined to adopt it because of political pressures, he said.

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