BAE Systems and communication interoperability

been on the table of problems to solve for years — far preceding 9/11. The development of Project 25 standards — a suite of national standards developed cooperatively by public interest groups and governmental agencies which are intended to enable interoperability among the communications products of various venders — began work in 1989. After 9/11, in recognition of the fact that more than 90 percent of public safety communications infrastructure in the United States is owned and operated at the local and state level, DHS established the SAFECOM program which aims to assist local and state authorities solve their communication interoperability problems.

The response
Nevertheless, both the process of standardization and progress by state and local authorities in attaining interoperability seem to be having difficulty in moving into an effective implementation stage. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on communication interoperability: “…ambiguities in the published standards have led to incompatibilities among products made by different vendors and no compliance testing has been conducted to ensure vendors’ products are interoperable.”(1) In the same report GAO pointedly criticizes the effectiveness of the SAFECOM program as having limited impact on both the interoperability level of state and local agencies and the ability of these agencies to communicate with federal first responders. It cites the lack of program guidance and performance measures as a key factor. DHS points, however, to the results of a national survey of almost 7,000 state and local agencies that indicate that roughly two-thirds of emergency response agencies across the nation use interoperable communications to varying degrees.(2) Considering the fact that this survey was taken less than one year after the Katrina debacle, one must remain skeptical. According to the Tactical Interoperability Communication Scorecard used by DHS to survey 75 main U.S. urban areas a number of major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Louisville, Omaha, Portland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas and Chicago, received disturbingly low scores on interoperable communications capabilities.(3)

The need for communication interoperability was recognized before 9/11, but there was no focus on finding solutions. The situation today is one in which various solutions exist but are not commonly deployed. The various stakeholders are struggling with the issues of which solutions to adopt, how to fund these solutions and how to get them deployed.

There are three approaches to communication interoperability:

  1. create one radio system;
  2. establish a common frequency and if necessary protocol, or
  3. develop a gateway system that interfaces