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Can We Talk? Public Safety and the Interoperability Challenge

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Dated: April 2000 Pages: 16-21
Date Published
April 2000
6 pages
Publication Series
Broadly defined, "interoperability" refers to the ability to transmit all types of communications electronically, including voice, data, and images; this article focuses on one aspect: the ability of public safety agencies to talk to each other via radios.
Primary obstacles to effective communication by radio among the staff of public safety agencies are incompatible radio frequency bands and limited funding to update equipment. John Clark, former Deputy Chief of Public Safety for the Federal Communications Commission, views the issue in larger terms, however. He states that the problem with public safety interoperability lies with management, leadership, institutional control, and institutional culture. Several approaches can foster enhanced communication among agencies. These include the use of digital radio systems, which operate more efficiently with radio spectrum and offer more options; and the use of products and services that traditionally have been sold only to consumers, such as satellite paging systems, cellular phones, and personal communication systems that transmit both voice and data. These alternatives are helping to alleviate existing public safety spectrum congestion and to expand the geographic boundaries of signal areas. Sharing radio towers is another approach. This article reports on the National Institute of Justice's efforts to support solutions. This includes the integration of 12 agencies in San Diego County (California) and the creation of AGILE in 1998. AGILE has four main components: supporting research and development; testing, evaluating, and piloting technologies; developing standards; and educating and reaching out to end users and policymakers. The article concludes with a discussion of the future of interoperability. 4 notes and a 11-item bibliography

Date Published: April 1, 2000