Frequently Asked Questions

What is communications interoperability?

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.

What are the components of a truly interoperable communications system and what are the barriers to creating one?

There are a variety of challenges to interoperability: some are technical, some financial, and some stem from human factors such as inadequate planning and lack of awareness of the real importance of interoperability.

According to a report published in February 2003 by the National Task Force on Interoperability, the emergency response community views the following as the key issues hampering emergency response wireless communications:

  • Incompatible and ageing communications equipment;
  • Limited and fragmented budget cycles and funding;
  • Limited and fragmented planning and coordination;
  • Limited and fragmented radio spectrum;
  • And limited equipment standards

What is emergency response communications interoperability?

Communications interoperability is the ability of emergency response agencies to talk across disciplines and jurisdictions via radio communications systems, exchanging voice and/or data with one another on demand, in real time, when authorized.

Why is emergency response communications and interoperability important?

Interoperability improves the ability of emergency responders to reduce the loss of life and property in emergency situations; facilitates rapid and efficient interaction among all emergency response organizations; and provides immediate and coordinated assistance in day-to-day missions, task force operations, and mass-casualty incidents. Interoperability affects not only emergency responders, but the public service arena as well, including legislative officials, utilities agencies, and chief information officers. Adequate emergency response radio communications are essential for emergency responders to function promptly, effectively, and cost efficiently. If emergency response agencies cannot communicate directly with one another by radio to coordinate response, lives and property are at risk.

Who are emergency responders?

Emergency responders include law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical service providers who are the first to arrive at the scene of an emergency.

How long will it take to achieve emergency response communications interoperability?

There is no quick and easy solution to solving communications interoperability issues. Achieving an optimal state of nationwide interoperability involves both human and technological factors and will be the result of a cumulative effort that involves coordination of processes and input from stakeholders across all levels of government.

Full interoperability could take 20 years because of equipment life cycles and time needed to develop and implement standards. In the mean time, SIEC and other organizations are working to ensure short-term solutions are in place.

What is P25?

Project 25 (P25) defines a suite of standards for a digital wireless radio communications system to be used by the emergency response community. To allow multiple vendors to supply the products and services to the communications system users, the Project 25 system has eight interfaces for which standards are or will be developed. Each interface allows the products of one manufacturer to interoperate with products of other manufacturers by defining the signaling and messages that cross the interface. For example, an agency could purchase P25 portable radios from one or more vendors, mobile radios from other vendors, the base stations from others, and dispatch consoles from still other vendors; all would have the features the agency needs to accomplish its mission, and all would interoperate under the P25 standards.

What is radio spectrum and why is it important to interoperability?

Radio spectrum is one of the nation's most valuable, finite resources. It is electronic real estate-the complete range of frequencies and channels that can be used for radio communications. Spectrum is the highway over which voice, data, and image communications travel. Inadequate radio spectrum is a major barrier to effective emergency response communications, both in major events and in day-to-day operations. Without access to effective radio spectrum, emergency response personnel cannot communicate with their own agencies and with each other as needed.