DHS: Time to put urban comms to test

The Homeland Security Department’s initial assessments of interoperable communications in 75 urban and metropolitan areas show good progress has been made in getting the capability in place, but more testing and strategic planning is needed to plug gaps and improve performance.

The score card assessments covered three areas – governance (leadership and strategic planning), standard operating procedures (plans and procedures), and usage (use of equipment) – and aimed to discover the relative maturity of interoperable communications in all 75 areas.

Last month, DHS published its first baseline survey of national interoperability. It showed about two-thirds of emergency response agencies nationwide use interoperable communications to some degree.

The score card assessments are the first real insight into how well the $2.9 billion DHS awarded in 2003 to boost state and local interoperable communications is being used. The department expects that the score card will help direct the efforts of communities eligible for funding to make better use of their investments and improve their communications.

“The 9/11 Commission identified interoperable communications as a major challenge and many communities listened by taking the sometimes difficult steps necessary to close communication gaps among first responders,” said DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, in announcing the assessments. “Their experience proves that basic interoperability at the command level is achievable.”

As far as governance was concerned, the assessments found that regionalized strategic plans are so far mostly not in place and still need to be developed. Standard operating procedures are in place, but additional steps still need to be taken to ensure they are fully instituted at the command and responder levels.

How well the communications equipment and procedures are used together varies, and proficiency needs increase in complexity as the number of agencies involved in a response grows, the assessments found. But almost no region had completed a communications-focused exercise before validation plans were adopted, the report states, meaning they had no experience in using their interoperable capabilities.

Chertoff said DHS would push to close the gaps in performance by the end of 2008.

About the Author

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


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