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DHS Tests Multi-Band, Interoperable Radio 

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By Austin Wright 

The Department of Homeland Security has entered the final stages of its four-year, nearly $9 million effort to develop a multi-band radio that can communicate across virtually all public-safety spectrums.

The lack of interoperable public-safety radios has been a high-profile issue since the federal government released the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004. The report said that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, police departments struggled to coordinate their response plans because their radios weren’t compatible with other departments’ communications systems.

Local, state and federal agencies, along with the Defense Department, still use radios that operate on different — and non-compatible — frequencies.

DHS has picked 14 public-safety agencies that will test and evaluate the new multi-band radio. The evaluators will use the radios for at least 30 days and will then provide feedback to the department.

“If this capability had existed on 9/11, I think we could have saved a lot of lives,” says Tom Chirhart, the project’s manager. “Some public-safety officers now carry upwards of four radios on their waists.”

The multi-band radio operates in the 138 through 800-megahertz bands — a huge block that encompasses nearly all federal, state and local public-safety frequencies. The radios will cost $4,000 to $6,000 each, and so far four companies have agreed to manufacture a version of the product. “Our goal is to incite additional manufacturers in order to get the prices down,” Chirhart says.

The radios also have GPS tracking devices and alkaline battery packs, which last more than 10 hours. “You have a lot of features, and a lot of capabilities in one package,” Chirhart adds. “This is a radio that, in effect, replaces up to five radios.”

Reader Comments

Re: DHS Tests Multi-Band, Interoperable Radio

Though DHS is to be commended for both backing this initiative and soliciting real world testing by the 1st responder community that has resulted in numerous corrections and improvements, they have failed to address the issue of multiple proprietary protocols in use by many existing public safety systems. Technology alone cannot fix the multi-faceted problem of interoperability Since there is insufficient funding and spectrum to permit a "forklift" upgrade to a common national system, we have come to believe that a system of systems is the only viable approach however this is stymied by the issue of proprietary protocols as well. I have come to believe the only way to "move" those that would perpetuate their proprietary hold would be to exclude them from receiving federal grant monies if they are unwilling to reasonably license their proprietary protocols in the public interest. After all, last I checked, those funds come from the taxpaying public who deserve better than the inoperable communications environment perpetuated by proprietary practices.

Bob Fay on 02/08/2010 at 20:37

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