Company in the spotlightSyTech Corporation and communication interoperability, I

Published 10 April 2008

The lack of communication interoperability among first response, rescue teams, and law enforcement during the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina was only the most dramatic and poignant demonstration of a persistent and debilitating flaw in U.S. agencies’ planning for disaster — and performing during disaster; communication interoperability is essential not only in disasters, but for routine, every-day operations of law enforcement; SyTech’s comprehensive approach to interoperability offers a solution

This is the first of two articles on SyTech’s approach to communication interoperability; the second article will appear next Thursday

A story we wrote in May 2006 opened this way: “Karl Marx said that history is like the weather: Everyone talks about it but few do anything to change it. We may say the same about emergency communication gear interoperability since 9/11. Not any more” (HSDW, 6 May 2006). The story was about the State of New Jersey putting forth a plan to enable its first-responders to talk and coordinate at the scene of an emergency within minutes. The story touched on an important and vexing issue: If you ask security experts and casual observers alike what aspect the 9/11 attacks and the Hurricane Katrina both shared, an aspect which was highlighted more often than others as emblematic of the U.S. government’s failure to prepare properly for both man-made and natural disasters - the answer will come back quickly and unanimously: Lack of communication interoperability. One company doing something about interoperability is Alexandria, Virginia-based SyTech Corporation. Before we learn more about the company and its approach, we need briefly to discuss communication interoperability.

Communication interoperability
Interoperability is the ability of public safety service and support providers — law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, emergency management, the public utilities, transportation, the military when needed, and others — to communicate with staff from other responding agencies and to exchange voice and data communications on demand and in real-time. It is the term that describes how radio communication systems should operate between and among agencies and jurisdictions which respond to common emergencies. At the core of the issue of interoperability is the fact that different jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations often use incompatible equipment and radio frequencies, with the result very often being that they cannot communicate with one another precisely at the time when such communication is most urgently needed.

Interoperability problems associated with communications among multiple agencies are not new. Gil Armendariz, co-founder and chairman of SyTech, points out that interoperability was already an issue in 1935: The notes from the convention of the Associated Police Communication Officers, the precursor to today’s APCO, contain a reference to J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, who said he was interested in inter-city communications, and said there was a need to discuss such communications. Dramatic and painful events in the last decade — the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine High