In general, interoperability refers to the ability of emergency responders to work seamlessly with other systems or products without any special effort. Wireless communications interoperability specifically refers to the ability of emergency response officials to share information via voice and data signals on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized. For example, when communications systems are interoperable, police and firefighters responding to a routine incident can talk to each other to coordinate efforts. Communications interoperability also makes it possible for emergency response agencies responding to catastrophic accidents or disasters to work effectively together. Finally, it allows emergency response personnel to maximize resources in planning for major predictable events such as the Super Bowl or an inauguration or for disaster relief and recovery efforts.
There are variety of challenges to interoperability. Some are tehnical (such as a limited and fragmented radio spectrum or outdated equipment), financial (such as limited and fragmented budget cycles and funding), and some stem from human factors (such as lmited and fragmented planning and coordination, and lack of awareness of the importance of interoperability). Click here for a planning guide for elected and appointed officials.
Through collaboration with emergency responders and policy makers across all levels of government, SAFECOM works to improve multi-jurisdictional and intergovernmental communications interoperability. The SAFECOM Executive Committee (EC) and SAFECOM Emergency Response Council (ERC) work with existing Federal communications programs and key emergency response stakeholders to address the need to develop better technologies and processes for the multi-jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary coordination of existing communications systems and future networks.
The SAFECOM EC and ERC, managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC), have been instrumental in the creation of key documents such as the Interoperability Continuum, the Statement of Requirements (SoR), the Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan (SCIP) Methodology, and the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) to assist emergency responders nationwide in improving communications and interoperability.
National Public Safety Broadband Communication (NPSTC)
The NPSTC is a federation of organizations created to encourage and facilitate implementation of the findings and recommendations of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC); and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Public Safety National Coordination Committee (NCC). They develop and make recommendations to appropriate governmental bodies regarding public safety communications issues and policies that promote greater interoperability and cooperation between local, state, tribal, and federal public safety agencies.
The FCC is currently working to expand the deployment of broadband technologies so that robust and reliable broadband products and services are available to all Americans. The term "broadband" refers to advanced communications systems capable of providing high-speed transmission of services such as data, voice, and video over the Internet and other networks.
Broadband technology is particularly critical to public safety because it can provide enhanced situational awareness from first responders in emergency situations. Through broadband use, public safety entities can access medical records, site information and other video and data information useful for emergency responses. Broadband will also improve the nation’s current 9-1-1 system by establishing the foundation for the transmission of voice, data or video to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) during emergency phone calls.
The FCC's PSHSB broadband goals are to examine existing and potential uses of broadband technology by public safety entities and ways in which broadband technology can enhance homeland security.
Learn more about the National Broadband Plan.