NASCIO offers communications interoperability model

The loss of life and property during and after hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscores a major problem facing government: the inability of public safety officials from different government sectors to communicate with one another and coordinate their efforts.

A research brief published recently by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers highlights the interoperability problems facing federal, state and local officials, and offers a map toward improved communication.

'The public expects their lives and property to be protected by their governments ' local, state or federal ' without distinction as to who is ultimately responsible,' the study said.

Getting first responders, law enforcement, transportation officials, public health officials, utility workers and public works employees all communicating on the same system is no simple problem, according to the brief. There are technical issues because of limited, fragmented radio spectrum and proprietary technology, the brief stated. There also are political concerns, with different agencies competing for funding, inhibiting the partnership required to develop interoperability. And there are cultural questions, with agencies reluctant to give up control over their communications systems, according to the brief.

To address the interoperability problem, agencies must share decision-making, accountability, business applications and infrastructure. And the issue must be addressed as part of a coordinated, multijurisdictional plan that involves all stakeholders, the brief stated.

States should start by establishing an oversight body to guide improvement efforts, the report stated. That group needs sanctioned authority from a governor or legislative body, and needs to be in partnership with neighboring states or federal agencies.

To help CIOs meet the challenge of improving interoperability, the brief offered nine recommendations:
  • Establish a state oversight board, working group or team made up of representatives from all branches and levels of government to oversee the process

  • Develop a statewide plan for achieving public safety wireless communications interoperability

  • Keep your statewide team on track by establishing well-defined goals and keeping open the lines of communication

  • Prepare for seen and unforeseen challenges as the process goes forward

  • Meet regularly with the governor's office regarding the state team's interoperability work

  • Be prepared to educate the appropriate legislative committees regarding the state team's interoperability activities

  • Establish contact with neighboring states that may be working on similar efforts, and coordinate with them whenever possible

  • Use other available federal, state and local resources, and learn from others' experiences

  • Monitor federal legislation, congressional hearings and reports related to issues that affect communications interoperability, including spectrum availability and funding.

Ethan Butterfield is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication Washington Technology.

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