Safecom makes its presence felt

COPS and FEMA have provided about $235 million for wireless interoperable communications in fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004, David Boyd said.

Olivier Douliery

Even without a lot of money to throw around, the Homeland Security Department's Safecom program makes its influence felt, says David Boyd, Safecom's director.

Safecom was created two years ago to address the wireless communications needs of public safety organizations at the federal, state and local levels. With an annual budget of only $22 million, Safecom cannot bankroll a large number of demonstration projects, but it works closely with all levels of government to establish standards and guidelines for developing interoperable voice and data systems.

For example, after soliciting input from state and local stakeholders, Safecom in April issued a 192-page statement of requirements for interoperable wireless communications, Boyd said. The statement is intended to 'put public safety officials in control of defining the requirements for interoperability, rather than having industry tell them what they need,' he said.

At the same time, the statement gives industry the requirements to meet state and local needs, rather than force them to guess what those requirements might be, he said.

Safecom also works with the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund demonstration projects on two levels, Boyd said. On one level, Safecom will fund projects that test emerging technologies that facilitate communications interoperability, such as voice over IP and mesh networks. On another level, Safecom will help coordinate funding for patch switching technologies that provide digital capabilities for legacy communications systems.

COPS and FEMA have provided about $235 million for wireless interoperable communications in fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004, Boyd said. Several regional wireless interoperability projects have been funded through these grants, he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that this year he will establish a new program office in the department that will be devoted to interoperability issues and initiatives. The new office will address first-responder interoperability issues related to mobile communications, equipment and training, Boyd said.

An initiative just completed that falls under the auspices of the new office focused on planning and response to an emergency like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The initiative, known as RapidCom 9/30, is aimed at 10 cities the federal government has identified as having the greatest risk of terrorist attack: Boston, Chicago, Houston, Jersey City, N.J., Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington.

A team from the National Guard, Homeland Security's Office of Domestic Preparedness and the Justice Department's Integrated Wireless Network led the project to establish incident-level, interoperable emergency communications among all 10 areas. The initiative involved providing technical assistance, planning sessions and equipment training, Boyd said.

DHS has said it will expand the RapidCom 9/30 initiative to other urban areas in the future.

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