Chertoff: Interoperability on fast track in cities

Forty-six U.S. cities should have interoperable communications in place for first responders by the end of 2007, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Tuesday.

All 50 states should aim to have interoperable systems for public safety by the end of 2008, Chertoff said during keynote speech at the National Grants and Training Conference in Washington.

Fostering interoperable communications systems for first responders has been a goal of the Homeland Security Department since Congress created it four years ago. The goal is to allow police and fire departments of multiple jurisdictions to talk to one another in real time in responding to a major incident.

Disparate radio systems prevent that from happening in most communities.

DHS will assist 46 cities, receiving grants through the Urban Area Security Initiative, in obtaining digital equipment and technical specifications to achieve interoperable communications by Dec. 31, 2007, and for all 50 states, Dec. 31, 2008, Chertoff said. The cities will get interoperability score cards next month to show their statuses, he said.

"We have the first generation of equipment," Chertoff said. "We know that what's needed at this point is finishing the governance plans and the documents, and we also know that we need to complete the job of getting the specifications for the next generation of digital equipment out there, so you can complete the process of being able to do your own planning for your next generation of purchases."

DHS will offer guidance to communities to help them set priorities for interoperable communications in their applications for federal homeland security grants in fiscal 2007, Chertoff said.

In related comments, Chertoff said the department will carry out President Bush's executive order to create a comprehensive system to alert the public in the event of a national emergency. The goal is to be able to warn 85 percent of the "listening public" within 10 minutes, he said. The public warning system needs new technologies, he said.

"We have text messaging. We have the Internet. We have digital cable. We have satellite television. We have to upgrade the patchwork system and build one that is national in scope for the 21st century," Chertoff said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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