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Learning to Talk: The Lessons of Non-Interoperability in Public Safety Communication Systems, 2002

NCJ Number
Donald A. Lund
Date Published
April 2002
29 pages
This document discusses the problems of communications among first response workers.
Interagency communications are vital to successful multi-agency operations and crucial to the safety and protection of the public safety personnel involved. Units of different agencies are often unable to communicate with one another due to different radio channels being used. There is a lack of available radio frequencies for emergency responders and public safety officials to use. There is no communications network that links ambulance and hospital emergency departments to key agencies and major command and control centers. An “interoperability” survey of New Hampshire’s law enforcement agencies was conducted. Interoperability is defined as an essential link within wireless communication systems that permits units from two or more different agencies to interact with one another and exchange information. Some prominent examples of non-interoperability are the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Los Angeles riots. Factors that contribute to non-interoperability are inadequate availability of spectral resources and incompatible equipment types. Other influences are sketchy policy and inadequate training. Failure to implement an event-wide “Incident Command System” or to adhere to its procedures are also factors. Because failure of “communications discipline” can affect event outcomes, it is recommended that clear text or code be used well in advance of an incident. Issues like logistical attention to details such as portable radio battery replacement, availability of floor plans, and appropriate roles of each agency are to be considered during planning efforts and training exercises. New Hampshire’s Commission on Preparedness and Security recommends improvement of interoperability and availability of communications systems; creation of a reliable and secure interagency communications network; and encouragement of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make more radio frequencies available in New Hampshire. 55 endnotes