Interoperability urged for border communications

The communication devices used by local, state and federal authorities working to secure the U.S. border with Mexico must be interoperable, two sheriffs of border counties said today.

Larry Dever, sheriff of Cochise County, Ariz., and Sigifredo González Jr., sheriff of Zapata County, Texas, said improvements are needed so authorities working to secure the border can better communicate with one another. The sheriffs testified before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response Subcommittee.

Dever said during an interview after the hearing that a lack of a common frequency for the communication devices was the major problem. However, he said improvements to the existing infrastructure and additional systems, such as mountaintop repeaters, are also needed, as are agreements to build common networks and language.

González, chairman of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, said after the hearing that sheriffs in the region are working to establish communications interoperability along the entire U.S./Mexico border. He also said federal authorities must include local authorities in their plans.

“You have to include those local agencies to be able to properly and effectively do the work in those agencies’ jurisdictions,” González said.

The Obama administration announced a plan March 24 to help stop growing drug-related violence near the border. The Homeland Security Department said it would spend as much as $184 million on the effort, including more than $100 million on technology-related programs.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the subcommittee’s chairman, emphasized the need for agencies to work together on problems related to border security.

“How do you coordinate if you don’t communicate?” Cuellar said after the hearing. “Didn’t we learn from 9/11?... At that time, those first responders couldn’t communicate, and that was back in 2001. Here we are in 2009, and we have a crisis across the river, and our local, state and federal [authorities] can’t communicate with each other.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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