Report: States, localities to invest more in comms

State and local governments will boost their technology investment by 40 percent in the next five years as they struggle to overcome communications problems that stymie coordinated emergency response efforts, according to a report released Jan. 10.

Technology spending will rise from $3.2 billion in 2006 to $4.4 billion in 2011 as public safety agencies push to bring real-time and on-demand communications to response efforts, according to market analyst firm Datamonitor.

But despite increased spending, those initiatives could run into a raft of problems, according to the report, including limited funding for new purchases, insufficient coordination among independent organizations, and confusion over which technology approach to adopt.

Public safety agencies say funding is the major obstacle to improving interoperability, said Kate McCurdy, Datamonitor’s government technology analyst, “but we cannot overlook the fact that collaboration and collective decision-making is difficult in an environment where individual agencies or jurisdictions typically purchase equipment independently.”

To complicate matters, agencies often receive little direction on choosing those the technologies that can best help them enhance interoperability, she said. As a result, “you have a situation where state and local governments recognize the need to improve interoperability but lack the means to do so.”

The Datamonitor study comes on the heels of several studies by the Homeland Security Department that, while asserting a more positive picture, also point to lagging efforts to bolster interoperable communications nationwide.

In December, the department published a baseline survey on interoperability, which showed that although approximately two-thirds of emergency response agencies nationwide report having interoperable communications, their level of development varies broadly.

Earlier this month, DHS published a study assessing how well urban and metropolitan areas had progressed in establishing interoperable communications. Overall, DHS found good progress, but officials said many regions needed to test their strategic plans more thoroughly so they could plug gaps in performance.

Agencies will have to make organizational and technology improvements if they want to achieve communication interoperability, the Datamonitor report states. Technology standards are emerging that will enable interoperability, McCurdy said, but agencies “must also reform their policy and governance structures to support communication and collaboration with disparate organizations.”

About the Author

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

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