Governors Attempt Interoperability Solution as Feds Falter
By Stew Magnuson and Matthew Rusling
Six states are being asked to design new projects to help first responders communicate with each other more effectively during disasters.
Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, New York and Washington will come up with new ideas to tackle this ongoing problem, said the National Governors Association’s center for best practices.
States continue to wrestle with problems linking their first responders. In many cases, different jurisdictions use different communication systems. This causes difficulties when wide-scale disasters strike. The public safety interoperability communications policy academy, under the auspices of the National Governors Association, will give states the chance to work with a faculty of government officials, researchers and other experts.
Some states may try to involve more local responders in statewide decisions on interoperability, said Erin Lee, the center’s program director. This might include police and fire departments and paramedics.
Other states may create a memorandum of understanding among departments so they know who will make what decisions in emergency situations. Some may look at better ways to purchase equipment, she said.
The association will advise the states on their projects, and make site visits if necessary. The idea is to set precedents and guidelines so the lessons learned can spread to other states, she said.
Meanwhile at the federal level, the goal of interoperability took a step backwards as the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Treasury quietly scrapped a long-time plan to develop a nationwide wireless communications service for their law enforcement officers. The integrated wireless network, better known as I-Win, was in development for seven years and cost taxpayers $32 million for a pilot project in the Seattle area, said the Government Accountability Office.
The three departments “could not agree on a common outcome or purpose that overcame their differences in missions, cultures, and established ways of doing business” and are now pursuing their own separate systems, GAO said.
“These efforts will not ensure the interoperability needed to serve day-to-day law enforcement operations or a coordinated response to terrorist or other events,” GAO said.
Justice officials said the pilot program proved that a nationwide system would be too costly.