B
Review of Interoperability Initiatives

A number of initiatives and programs at the federal, state, and local levels have worked to improve interoperability. Some 60 agencies and programs deal with various aspects of interoperable communications and are spread throughout the federal government, state, regional, and local agencies as well as public safety associations.

One major federal program, started in early 2001, was the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Advanced Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement (AGILE) program, now the CommTech program. AGILE was established as a comprehensive program to concentrate on the need for improved public safety communications and information sharing to address the requirement for effective coordination, communication, and sharing of information among numerous criminal justice and public safety agencies. Three research areas identified as being of general interest to the AGILE program reflect a focus on both data and voice interoperability: 1

  • Information sharing—Address technological and policy obstacles to enable effective and efficient, on-demand sharing of database information in a regional area;

1

National Institute of Justice, “Communications Interoperability and Information Sharing Technologies (AGILE R&D) Program Solicitation,” Washington, D.C., June 2001, p. 2; available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/agile2001.pdf.



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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery B Review of Interoperability Initiatives A number of initiatives and programs at the federal, state, and local levels have worked to improve interoperability. Some 60 agencies and programs deal with various aspects of interoperable communications and are spread throughout the federal government, state, regional, and local agencies as well as public safety associations. One major federal program, started in early 2001, was the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Advanced Generation of Interoperability for Law Enforcement (AGILE) program, now the CommTech program. AGILE was established as a comprehensive program to concentrate on the need for improved public safety communications and information sharing to address the requirement for effective coordination, communication, and sharing of information among numerous criminal justice and public safety agencies. Three research areas identified as being of general interest to the AGILE program reflect a focus on both data and voice interoperability: 1 Information sharing—Address technological and policy obstacles to enable effective and efficient, on-demand sharing of database information in a regional area; 1 National Institute of Justice, “Communications Interoperability and Information Sharing Technologies (AGILE R&D) Program Solicitation,” Washington, D.C., June 2001, p. 2; available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/agile2001.pdf.

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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery High-bandwidth communications—Ability to transmit, from stationary and mobile platforms, high-bandwidth information, such as still images and near real-time video, using common standards and open architecture techniques; Voice communications—Ability to overcome disparate bands, frequencies, and waveform generation techniques to enable regional voice communications interoperability for day-to-day and mutual aid situations. In October 2001, the NIJ sponsored the National Public Safety Wireless Interoperability Forum. The goals of the forum were to raise public safety wireless interoperability to the national level and to give forum participants the opportunity to develop a list of actions that could be taken to overcome the policy barriers to improving public safety wireless communications.2 The forum’s success led to the creation of the National Task Force on Interoperability (NTFI). In February 2003, NTFI—a task force comprising members from 18 national associations, state and local elected and appointed officials, and public safety officials—issued a guide for public officials entitled “Why Can’t We Talk?” that reiterated and extended the work done by the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee. The NTFI guide states that the inability of public safety officials to communicate with one another “threatens the public’s safety and often results in unnecessary loss of lives and property.”3 It does note the importance of data communications interoperability, particularly the need for interagency planning and coordination to achieve it. However, the primary focus is voice communications, and it is emphasized that a lack of adequate spectrum for public safety communications is one of the major barriers to interoperable communications. Although it continues to receive considerable attention, adequate spectrum is not the only (or even the most important) requirement for interoperable communications. The definition of public safety wireless communications interoperability developed by the NTFI and refined by SAFECOM, a program of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, describes interoperability as “the ability of emergency response officials to share information via 2 See the National Institute of Justice’s information on the National Task Force on Interoperability at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/commtech/ntfi/welcome.html. 3 National Task Force on Interoperability, “Why Can’t We Talk?: Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap, a Guide for Public Officials,” February 2003, pp. 15-21; available at http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/library/interoperabilitybasics/1159_nationaltask.htm.

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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery voice and data signals on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized.”4 The NTFI guide identifies five key barriers to public safety communications interoperability: Incompatible and aging communications equipment, Limited and fragmented budget cycles and funding, Limited and fragmented planning and coordination, Limited and fragmented radio spectrum, and Limited equipment standards. The Summit on Interoperable Communications for Public Safety, held in June 2003, was a joint effort among the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), DHS’s SAFECOM program, and NIJ’s AGILE program. The summit, which brought together a variety of participants from federal, state, and national programs created to assist public safety practitioners, produced a briefing book listing the various programs and agencies at all levels of government involved in ongoing interoperability efforts.5 The summit was intended as the initial step in familiarizing key interoperability players with the work being done by others so that mutually beneficial coordination and collaboration among the various technical programs could be established. The summit was also meant to provide insight into where additional federal resources might be warranted and to help stakeholders maximize the limited resources available across all government levels by leveraging program successes and developing standards, approaches, products, and services for the benefit of all. One of the clear messages from the summit was that interoperability should be built from the bottom up. That is, interoperation of communications must be built starting at the state, local, and regional levels with guidance and support coming from the federal level. Under this framework, federal programs such as DHS’s SAFECOM and NIJ’s CommTech see their role as assisting state and local law enforcement agencies to communicate effectively and efficiently with one another across agency and jurisdictional boundaries.6 4 See http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/interoperability/default.htm. 5 Summit on Interoperable Communications for Public Safety, “Briefing Book of Public Safety Related Groups and Programs on Interoperable Communications and Information Sharing,” NIST, Gaithersburg, Md., June 26-27, 2003, 85 pages. The list in the briefing book is the basis for the estimation that more than 60 programs are involved in various aspects of interoperability. 6 The CommTech Web site notes this focus, stressing its role as a facilitator; see http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/commtech/welcome.html.

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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery The mission of the DHS S&T Directorate’s Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC) is to serve as the overarching program within DHS to strengthen and integrate interoperability efforts that improve public safety preparedness and response at all levels. OIC responsibilities include the following: Support the creation of interoperability standards; Establish a comprehensive research, development, testing, and evaluation program; Identify and certify all DHS programs that involve interoperability issues; Integrate coordinated grant guidance; Oversee the development and implementation technical assistance; Conduct pilot demonstrations of technology; Create an interagency interoperability coordination council; and Establish an effective outreach program. OIC created the umbrella program SAFECOM to coordinate the efforts of public safety agencies at all levels of government in order to improve public safety response through more effective, efficient, interoperable wireless communications. SAFECOM has developed a number of tools and documents for public safety officials, including the Interoperability Continuum framework for addressing critical wireless interoperability elements; the Statewide Communications Interoperability Planning (SCIP) methodology; grant guidance, which includes guidelines for implementing a wireless communication system; and, in conjunction with the NIJ, a statement of requirements (SoR) for interoperability.7 Recent activity undertaken to carry out that mission includes the following: Creation of the Federal Interagency Coordination Council (FICC) to coordinate funding, technical assistance, standards development, and regulations affecting communications and interoperability across the federal government; Publication of a statement of requirements that defines, for the first time, what it will take to achieve full interoperability and provides industry requirements against which to map product capabilities; Issuance of a request for input from the public safety community 7 Details on the SAFECOM program are available at http://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM.

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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery in the form of a survey intended to help DHS identify and define specific projects to improve emergency communications; Initiation of an effort to accelerate the development of critical standards for interoperability; Creation of a grant guidance document that has been used by FEMA, Community Oriented Policing Services, and Office of Domestic Preparedness state block grant programs to promote interoperability improvement efforts; Establishment of a task force with the Federal Communications Commission to consider spectrum and regulatory issues that can strengthen public safety interoperability; Creation of the SCIP methodology for developing statewide communications plans; Release of a request for information to industry that netted more than 150 responses; and Work with the public safety community to develop a governance document that defines both how SAFECOM will operate and how participating agencies will work within that framework. A number of states and regions have undertaken a variety of initiatives to achieve interoperable wireless communications among agencies in their areas. Virginia worked with SAFECOM and the NIJ to develop a strategic plan for improving statewide interoperable communications. The lessons from this effort were used by SAFECOM to create the SCIP methodology. The NTFI identified a number of state and regional wireless voice communications interoperability efforts, including the Capital Wireless Integrated Network (CapWIN), which is a partnership between the state of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the District of Columbia to develop an interoperable first responder data communication and information sharing network; the state of South Dakota radio system, which includes everything from the wireless infrastructure to radios used in state-wide communications; and the state of Indiana radio system (Hoosier Safe-T), which provides statewide wireless infrastructure for voice communications. Other initiatives include the Minnesota metropolitan public safety radio system, public safety radio interoperability in Colorado, state of North Carolina interoperability initiatives, and the Utah communications agency network.8 The nature of these efforts varies depending on the unique situation of the locality, region, or state. 8 National Task Force on Interoperability, “Why Can’t We Talk?: Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap to Save Lives: A Guide for Public Officials, Supplemental Resource,” February 2003, describes a number of state and regional interoperability case studies; available at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/211079.pdf.

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Improving Disaster Management: The Role of IT in Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Efforts specifically addressing data communications interoperability have been the focus of considerable effort within the public safety community. FEMA’s Disaster Management e-Gov initiative and its Disaster Management Interoperability Services (DMIS)9 provide a set of services and software tools to public safety agencies for enabling responders to share information seamlessly between organizations. The Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) and the derivative DHS National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) are intended as data reference models for the exchange of information within the justice and public safety communities.10 Overarching efforts such as the Federal Enterprise Architecture and the e-Authentication e-Gov program also address information sharing and data exchange at the federal level.11 Industry-led efforts at data communications interoperability include the IEEE 1512 Standards Program, oriented to transportation incident management, and the IEEE 1451 Program for Sensor Integration Standards.12 International efforts that span the government, private, and opensource communities include the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards Emergency Management Technical Committee, developers of the Common Alerting Protocol and the Emergency Data Exchange Language; and the Open GIS Consortium, creators of Geospatial Markup Language and of the Web Map Service and Web Feature Service specifications, among others. Two significant examples of regional cooperation to provide wireless data interoperability are (1) the CapWIN wireless integrated mobile data communications network involving 41 federal, state, and local agencies serving the U.S. Capital Region (Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia);13 and (2) the Automated Regional Justice Information System (ARJIS) in the greater San Diego region, including San Diego and Imperial Counties in California, used by 71 local, state, and federal agencies to provide wireless data access to critical information in the field.14 9 See http://www.cmi-services.org/. 10 More information on GJXDM is available at http://it.ojp.gov/jxdm; further information on NIEM is available at http://niem.gov/. 11 See http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/a-1-fea.html. 12 For more information on IEEE 1512 and IEEE 1451, see http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/scc32/imwg/ and http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/1451/0/, respectively. 13 Additional information on CapWIN is available at http://www.capwin.org/index.cfm. 14 Additional information on ARJIS is available at http://www.arjis.org.