Survey: Most responders have interoperability

National Interoperability Baseline Survey

The majority of emergency responders have equipment that enables them to communicate with one another, a Homeland Security Department survey of the level of interoperable communications among first responders and law enforcement officers shows. It is the first detailed study of its kind.

About two-thirds of emergency response agencies nationwide use interoperable communications at varying degrees, DHS concluded.

“The survey reinforces the fact that interoperability is achievable, that technology works today and is available,” said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The survey was issued to 22,400 randomly selected agencies nationwide, and 30 percent responded. The questions were based on the Safecom Interoperability Continuum, which codifies the level of agencies’ commitment to governance, policy, technology, training and usage. DHS says those five critical elements determine an organization’s capability for interoperability.

The survey results may surprise some people. Earlier this year, DHS’ inspector general was among those warning Congress that federal, state and local emergency responders still lacked interoperable communications six months after a lack communications was blamed for the poor response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005.

However, DHS’ 2006 National Interoperability Baseline Survey also shows that the picture is nuanced. Although overall capability might be better than expected, interoperability seems to be more advanced at the local level than between state and local agencies. There’s also a major disparity between larger and smaller agencies.

Agencies serving populations of 2,500 or less tend to be at earlier stages of development, whereas those serving 25,000 or more are at moderate to advanced stages.

The study also showed less-than-expected operational differences between law enforcement and fire/emergency response agencies. Answers to questions in the survey showed statistical significant differences between the two disciplines only a quarter of the time.

The availability of interoperable technology is not a major problem, according to the study.

“The willingness of emergency response leaders and local officials to make this issue their priority is what will continue to drive progress on one of [the 2001 terrorist attacks’] most important lessons,” Chertoff said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.


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