DHS to rate local interoperability plans

The Homeland Security Department plans to issue public scorecards of the effectiveness of interoperable first-responder communications in cities and regions across the country by the end of this year, according to secretary Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff emphasized that interoperable radio communications have stalled mainly because of problems cities and regions have in agreeing on "governance" plans for the systems. Such plans include protocols for which types of communications have priority in a disaster situation. They also specify frequencies and communication codes that all participating first-responder organizations use. The state and local agencies also need to adopt training programs so first responders can use the equipment.

DHS has issued model communications interoperabilty plans to states and spent more than $2.1 billion to fund state and local programs in the area, Chertoff said.

"By the end of this year, each urban area is going to get a scorecard, a public scorecard, that will identify gaps and help us to determine the improvements we need to make in the near term," Chertoff said "The purpose of this is not to penalize people." He said the goal of the scorecard project will be to pinpoint gaps that remain and help fix them.

Chertoff said the department would issue its scorecard methodology this week, so states and cities could pinpoint the areas in which they need to improve their interoperability programs. The scorecard would help states and cities judge the effectiveness of their existing DHS grants and shape future grant programs, he added.

Chertoff touted the progress of the RapidCom program, under which DHS has funded systems so incident managers in ten of the country's highest-risk cities can communicate with one another and their command centers.

"So we've now expanded this RapidCom concept with our tactical interoperable communications plans, which are basically communications plans that would allow the 75 largest urban and multijurisdictional metropolitan areas to use this equipment to develop true interoperability," Chertoff said.

"Now I'm not going to oversell this," Chertoff continued. "This is not a perfect solution, even the current technology. But it is workable and it can be used and deployed today."

Chertoff cautioned that technology managers should strive to develop good systems that improve interoperable communications, rather than wait and strive for the best possible outcomes. "The perfect is something to aspire to, but as we speak in this particular moment, we have to focus on the good," Chertoff said.

He spoke at the Tactical Interoperable Communications conference May 8.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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