Wyatt Kash | Editor's Desk: Time for innovation in first-responder comms

Wyatt Kash

Innovation and government are words not often associated with one another. This edition of GCN offers some noteworthy exceptions.

The winners of this year's GCN Awards, and their stories, are a testament to how determination, creativity and innovation are making a difference in government.

What distinguishes these project teams and individuals is not so much the technical solutions they used, but the boldness of their approach.

It is that kind of determination, creativity and boldness that can, and must, be marshaled to solve the nation's emergency communications needs.

The lessons of Hurricane Katrina are painfully clear. Police, firefighters and emergency personnel still don't have easy means to communicate with one another in emergencies. The collapse of communications systems throughout the Gulf Coast illustrated the urgent need not only for a more interoperable and survivable communication system'but also for a way to power it when batteries go dead and generators run out of fuel.

Technology, as usual, is not the chief obstacle. Rather it's the legacy of decisions made over many years, the challenge of getting people to give up coveted radio spectrum and the huge cost of replacing existing equipment.

Legislators are pushing to create a new Office for Emergency Communications, Interoperability and Compatibility and to fund development of new communication systems. But those measures could take years to bear fruit.

Congress has yet to fix a date for police, fire and emergency medical services to take over radio frequencies set aside for them nearly a decade ago but still used by television broadcasters.
What's needed in the meantime is the commitment, creativity and enterprise reflected in this issue.

This year's GCN Award winners make clear that government is capable of bold innovation, given the right resources and leadership.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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