Interoperability supporters see progress

Ridge mulls creating new program office

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is exploring a number of options, including establishing a program management office,to promote greater interoperability among first responders.

Ridge "is looking at all of the ways to ensure that kind of interoperability is achieved," said David Boyd, director of research and development operations for DHS' Science and Technology Directorate.

In his one-year anniversary speech to the department Feb. 23, Ridge spoke of the importance of interoperability to homeland security, Boyd said. When the secretary speaks about interoperability, he is referring not only to wireless communications, but also to first-responder equipment, Boyd said.

Boyd oversees project SafeCom, the department's interoperable wireless communications initiative. If a program management office were established, SafeCom likely would be folded into it.

Developing industry standards is key to creating interoperability systems, said Mike Zeitfuss, vice president and general manager of homeland security programs at Harris Corp.'s Government Communications Systems Division.

Bob Goldberg/Harris Corp.

DHS' David Boyd

Olivier Douliery

Despite pervasive problems, government and industry have taken some positive steps toward creating interoperable wireless communications in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Among the most important is the development of industry standards, said Mike Zeitfuss, who leads the homeland security business unit in the government communications systems division of Harris Corp., Melbourne, Fla.

At the same time, the federal government has assigned more bandwidth for first responders. And public safety officials from different federal, state and local jurisdictions have signed memoranda to allow information sharing.

Zeitfuss said a number of federal organizations are responsible for the progress, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Communications Commission.

Communications interoperability approaches are so far limited to voice over Internet protocol, software-defined radio and conventional technologies that have been on the market for years, said David Boyd, director of research and development operations for DHS' Science and Technology Directorate.

Through DHS' SafeCom initiative, which Boyd oversees, the department this year will test several new technologies that it hopes will push the envelope of available interoperable technologies.

[IMGCAP(2)]"As part of our effort to build a national architecture and relevant standards, we are studying technologies that haven't been looked at in this environment but are, in fact, going to fit here," he said. "We're not looking at these projects as existing mainline deployments. We're looking at those [technologies] that address interoperability as a key part of their function."

State and local governments "are crying out for standards," said Lauren Shu, a senior analyst with Input Inc.'s federal IT market analysis. She said some state and local governments are holding onto funds and waiting for standards so they can have systems compatible with neighboring jurisdictions.

Mike Barney, director of systems engineering for business development and sales for the Decision System Division at General Dynamics Corp. of Falls Church, Va., said SafeCom faces a difficult but necessary task in setting national standards and testing new technologies.

"I don't think this will happen overnight, by any means, but standards and interim solutions will produce some solid results in the midterm," he said.

Chuck Jackson, vice president and director of the North American Group of Motorola Inc. of Schaumberg, Ill., said he sees slow but steady progress toward regional interoperability.

"We're seeing more consolidations of single systems by a state or group of counties than before," he said. "Once those foundations are in place, more and more jurisdictions will want to join them." *

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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