Communications

D.C.-area first responders need a clearer path on comms

Shutterstock image (by Pavel Ignatov): Radio antenna, digital concept.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of National Capital Region Coordination, which is in charge of coordinating local and federal security around the nation's Capital region, needs to improve how it manages interoperable radio communications among the area's emergency responders, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.

The National Capital Region is a legally designated area that includes Washington, D.C., and nearby parts of Virginia and Maryland

As part of its work, ONCRC collaborates with the regional Emergency Preparedness Council to help state and local agencies access the DHS's Urban Area Security Initiative grant program.

In fiscal 2014, GAO said DHS allocated $53 million in grant funding to the NCR to enhance its homeland security and preparedness capabilities. Included in that grant was almost $7 million to fund activities, such as purchasing radios and other equipment, aimed at interoperable communications capabilities.

The GAO study found that the ONCRC doesn't have a formal mechanism in place to coordinate with federal agencies about interoperable communications. Between 2002 and 2104, it said, the ONCRC had used a group called the Joint Federal Committee as at its primary means of coordinating with federal agencies in the region. The study said the JFC hadn't been convened since 2014. ONCRC officials told GAO that the group planned on restructuring the JFC to improve its coordination capabilities.

The GAO said the JFC's charter did not specify the roles and responsibilities of participating agencies or how they were to work together across agency boundaries. Those specifications, it said, could go a long way in straightening out the difficulties.

"GAO recommends that ONCRC, as part of its efforts to restructure the JFC, clearly articulate in a written agreement the roles and responsibilities of participating agencies and specify how they are to work together across agency boundaries," said the report. NCRC concurred with the recommendation.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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