Baby steps on interoperable comms

DHS will issue methodology for rating cities' and regions' interop efforts. Methodology will be released this week, scorecards not until the end of the year.

It's been close to five years since 9/11, and a key technology goal for disaster readiness has been stalled for much of that time. First responders at the federal, state and local levels cannot communicate with each other because systems are not interoperable. At a conference on the topic this week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the department plans to issue scorecards of cities' and regions' efforts as a way to identify the issues, Government Computer News reports.

Chertoff emphasized that interoperable radio communications have stalled mainly because of problems cities and regions have in agreeing on “governance” plans for the systems. Such plans include protocols for which types of communications have priority in a disaster situation. They also specify frequencies and communication codes that all participating first-responder organizations use. The state and local agencies also need to adopt training programs so first responders can use the equipment.

The scorecards will be out by the end of the year. The methodology should be released this week. The scorecard would help states and cities judge the effectiveness of their existing DHS grants and shape future grant programs, he added.

While touting the RapidCom program, which has funded interoperable systems in the 10 highest-risk cities and would be expanded to 75 cities, Chertoff cautioned:

"Now I'm not going to oversell this,” Chertoff continued. “This is not a perfect solution, even the current technology. But it is workable and it can be used and deployed today.”

Chertoff cautioned that technology managers should strive to develop good systems that improve interoperable communications, rather than wait and strive for the best possible outcomes. “The perfect is something to aspire to, but as we speak in this particular moment, we have to focus on the good,” Chertoff said.

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