Talk, talk

Before everyone can hop on the same network, they have to be on the same page

Linking agencies with different missions on a single network is not necessarily a big technical challenge. It's more of a challenge in successful communications.

'The underlying technology exists to meet every one of our requirements,' said Michael Duffy, Justice Department deputy CIO for e-government. 'It's in the melding of the requirements that things get interesting.'

Justice is taking the lead in the Integrated Wireless Network, which will serve multiple agencies in DOJ and the departments of Treasury and Homeland Security. Others involved in setting up interoperable interagency networks have found the same thing.

'The human element was the interesting thing,' said Jeff Meyer, deployment director for CoCo Communications Corp., which is helping to deploy an integrated network at Love Field Airport in Dallas.

Developing the policies needed to bring cross-jurisdictional agencies together and define interoperability requirements can be a tougher job than coming up with the hardware and software to do it. The good news is that the biggest hurdles do not seem to be turf wars between jealous bureaucrats.

'The basic cooperation isn't bad; we get that,' Duffy said. 'The problem is working out the details.'

Eighty percent of the requirements are common to all of the agencies involved in the project, he said. But the remaining 20 percent of requirements have to be accommodated, and that represents 80 percent of the work.

That was one of the reasons the Seattle area was chosen for an IWN pilot program, Duffy said. 'There already was a culture of cooperation among the agencies to build on. That's a key issue.'

The Dallas Love Field project benefited from a similar attitude.
'We benefited from a spirit of problem-solving that was already in place,' Meyer said. 'We also benefited from vision at the governor's office, all the way down to the Dallas city government.'

Even an increased willingness to cooperate does not necessarily mean that coming to an agreement will be a simple process. The primary lessons in the Dallas and Seattle projects is that you must communicate before you can deploy a communications network.

'Constant involvement of the users throughout the entire process is needed,' Duffy said. 'Keep the feedback coming.'

'Make sure that you participate in the business rules phase of the project, and make sure that you represent your agency well in the process,' said Ron Chandler, the Transportation Security Administration's chief engineer in Dallas. 'Know what role your agency plays in events, know your standard operating procedures in an emergency. That was the most critical and complicated part.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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