SyTech Corporation and communication interoperability, I

School shooting, the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and numerous other incidents — required multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional cooperation and served to underscore the consequences of the failure of agencies to communicate with each other. Hurricane Katrina offers a vivid example of what happens to communication systems during a massive disaster: When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on the morning of 29 August 2005, communications all but collapsed. In many parts of the Gulf Coast it ceased to exist. Approximately nineteen BellSouth central offices were knocked out of service, killing landline phone service and 911 calls. The high winds took out commercial power in the early stages of the storm, at the same time that radio antennas and towers were destroyed or became useless in the early phases of the storm. Many public-safety radio systems did not function or even exist after the storm passed. When rescue and response teams managed to make their way to New Orleans and the other ravaged Gulf Coast communities, all they found were few radio repeaters which were still working: No phone service existed, nor was there any 911 system or Internet service; most of the TV and commercial radio stations were off the air; and no electricity was available (the Katrina example also highlights the need for communication continuity during disaster; to learn more about communication continuity, see the HSDW story about Rockville, Maryland-based Telecontinuity). The rescue and response teams from different jurisdiction and levels of government which rushed to the Gulf Coast found not only a devastated communication system, but as was the case with other disasters, they encountered great difficulties in communication with each other as the communication system was slowly brought back up.

Stories about disasters are dramatic and eye-catching, but first responders and law enforcement know that inefficiencies, difficulties, and costs which the lack of interoperability introduces are not manifest only during dramatic catastrophes, but are present in every day operations. Radio communications interoperability is thus required not only in response to a major incident, but also during routine operations in order to provide a coordinated response to daily events. Interoperability is critical during incident response situations in which multiple agencies, often including multiple functions (for example, law enforcement, fire, EMS), respond to a specific incident. Incident response scenarios can include terrorist attacks; natural disasters such as wildfires, tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes; and hazardous materials incidents. Interoperability is also necessary in