Safecom SCIPs across states

DHS officials have a model plan for statewide interoperable communication networks from the grassroots level.

Statewide Communication Interoperability Planning (SCIP) Methodology

Federal officials unveiled a model plan yesterday that state officials can use to build grass-roots statewide interoperable communication networks.

Officials for the Homeland Security Department's Safecom Program released the Statewide Communications Interoperability Planning (SCIP) methodology proposal, based on a statewide plan that Virginia agencies unveiled last October in their drive to create a network for all law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions.

Federal and state officials worked collaboratively on Virginia's plan, which included support from first responders. Previous attempts failed federal officials initiated the plans. The same pattern occurs when state officials attempt to force programs at the local level.

"You have to start with local agencies," said David Boyd, who directs Safecom. "They're the guys who own, operate and maintain something on the order of 90 percent of the nation's public safety wireless communications infrastructure. They're the guys who are actually using the systems day-to-day, and so we were convinced that the key to success to any attempt to achieve interoperability was to start at that level."

The SCIP methodology offers 10 planning phases for states to use as a springboard to tailor their communication plans. With the methodology, state and local officials can:

Establish relationships and funding.

Collect information.

Create a project plan.

Identify roles and responsibilities for the project team.

Recruit focus group participants for meetings and conduct interviews.

Analyze data.

Prepare and conduct a strategic planning session.

Develop a strategic plan and guidelines for the first 90 days of implementation.

The methodology also provides step-by-step explanations for each phase, including critical tasks, timelines, planning resources, sample documents and templates for communication materials. Boyd said it's not a one-size-fits-all approach, but it's dramatically different from how many state officials have developed networks without addressing local needs.

"In almost every case, the statewide interoperability plan was prepared essentially in a vacuum," he said. "Most of these states — once they finished with the plan or put in a new system as part of the plan — ended up with only the state police on the system. None of the local guys were in it because they hadn't been taken into account on Day One."

A critical step is getting support from all levels of a state, especially from governors. If a governor isn't on board, it's not going to happen, Boyd said. But once officials achieve support, he said, governors should follow through because there is an expectation on the local level that some action will occur.

Communications interoperability has been a major issue among law enforcement agencies and other first responders for decades, but the issue took on national significance since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Boyd, who has worked on this issue for the last decade or so, said a movement has emerged during the past two years to improve communications interoperability.

"We've probably moved things further along in the last 18 to 24 months than we [had] moved along in the previous decade," he said. "Largely because for the first time there's a genuine national focus on this, it's not just a piecemeal, a little bit here, a little bit there."

Safecom officials are developing several other initiatives. The office is part of DHS's Office of Interoperability and Compatibility. They include the first statistically valid measurement of nationwide interoperability, a baseline that should help localities assess their progress. That initiative may require a year for development, but, Boyd said, his office may share some initial findings this summer. Another initiative is developing a framework for the national architecture, which officials may unveil in 60 to 90 days.

Safecom also hopes to convene an industry forum or summit within 90 to 150 days to help representatives understand the public safety need. Until now, "what we tended to have is that industry develops something and then comes down and says, 'We have a solution, all we need to do is define your problems so it fits in the solution,' " Boyd said. "We want to start with, 'Public safety has a problem, we want you to define a solution that fits the problem.' "

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