DHS plans to unify emergency communications

Ninety percent of the U.S. cities most at risk to terrorism must be able to demonstrate emergency communications across multiple agencies and communities by 2010, under the National Emergency Communications Plan recently released by the Homeland Security Department.

The plan has been in development under a mandate from Congress since 2002, and its goal is to create a national strategy to address shortcomings in emergency communications that hampered fire and police responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Congress, DHS and first responders have been concerned about improving interoperability, which is the ability of police and fire departments from different jurisdictions to talk and plan with one another at an incident scene. The problems exist between fire, police and other response agencies from different communities and also between agencies in the same community.

The department’s 83-page plan released July 31 outlined these goals:



  • By 2010, 90 percent of all 60 high-risk urban areas designated under the Urban Area Security Initiative must show the ability to communicate across multiple jurisdictions and agencies within an hour of a multi-jurisdictional event.

  • By 2011, 75 percent of all urban areas must be able to demonstrate emergency communications within one hour for routine events involving multiple jurisdictions and agencies.

  • By 2013, 75 percent of all jurisdictions must be able to demonstrate response-level emergency communications within three hours of a significant event.
    "This is a comprehensive plan designed to drive measurable and sustainable improvements to operable and interoperable emergency communications nationwide over the next three years. It emphasizes the human element and cross-jurisdictional cooperation, going beyond simply buying new equipment," Homeland Security Undersecretary Robert Jamison said in a statement.

    The department has recently approved Statewide Communication Interoperability Plans for all 56 states and territories, Jamison said. Those plans will be aligned with the national plan to promote a coordinated national strategy.

    The plan is intended to enhance governance, planning, use of technology, training and exercises, and disaster communications capabilities. Department officials said the plan is consistent with the National Response Framework, National Incident Management System, National Preparedness Guidelines and Target Capabilities List. It was developed with input from state, local and tribal first responders and private-sector manufacturers of communications equipment, DHS said.

    Last month, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), chairman of the House Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response Subcommittee, and other lawmakers complained that the national communications plan was three months overdue.



About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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