The Success of SAFECOM

This column provides a comprehensive look at the makeup and reviews the successes of the Department of Homeland Security SAFECOM Program.

The SAFECOM Program was established in 2001 as a Presidential E-Government Initiative for the purpose of providing key federal coordination to promote and provide support to federal, state, local and tribal emergency communications responder agencies. SAFECOM is a practitioner-driven emergency response communications program of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) and Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC).

By collaborating with practitioners and policy-makers, SAFECOM works to improve multi-jurisdictional and inter-governmental coordination to ensure that effective and fully coordinated preparedness and response planning is established. SAFECOM also works to build partnerships among all levels of government, linking the strategic planning and implementation needs of the emergency response community with federal, state, local and tribal governments.

OEC and OIC Coordination: Guidance and Tools

SAFECOM provides research, development, testing and evaluation, guidance, tools, and templates on interoperable communications-related issues to federal, state, local and tribal emergency response agencies. OEC supports SAFECOM's development of grant guidance, policy, tools, and templates, and provides direct assistance to federal, state, local and tribal practitioners. OIC supports SAFECOM's research, development, testing and evaluation, standards, and tools, analysis, reports and guidelines. OEC is an office within the National Protection and Programs Directorate. OIC is an office within the Science and Technology Directorate.

SAFECOM Approach

SAFECOM is a communications program of the Department of Homeland Security. Building upon successful partnerships, SAFECOM established the Executive Committee (EC) and the Emergency Response Council (ERC) ensuring that state and local stakeholders have a voice in the development of nationwide planning efforts and an opportunity to present input on user viewpoints, needs and resources. To achieve a shared vision, advance coordination, and define long-term goals within the emergency communications community, SAFECOM recognizes that the development of sustainable solutions requires a focus on emergency response practitioner user viewpoints, needs and requirements as well as the greater needs of the emergency response community.

The SAFECOM EC is comprised of national emergency response associations and policy makers from contributing federal agencies. It serves as the leadership group of the ERC and SAFECOM's primary resource to access emergency response practitioners and policy makers so SAFECOM can gather the emergency response community's user needs. The SAFECOM EC:

  • Provides strategic leadership and guidance to SAFECOM on emergency responder user viewpoints and needs from the perspective of practitioners and policy makers at all levels of government.
  • Communicates decisions, plans, and results to relevant constituencies, practitioners, and subsets that are not directly engaged.
  • Defines and articulates the viewpoints and needs of the emergency response community to inform the development of materials targeted at that community.
  • Builds relationships with the ERC to leverage their subject matter expertise as a broader pool of resources.

The SAFECOM ERC was developed to serve as a vehicle to provide a broad base of state and local emergency response community input on emergency responder user viewpoints and needs to SAFECOM. The collective input from members of the ERC helps federal partners recognize barriers, understand end-user requirements and forge agreements on key initiatives. Serving as a "product research development group" for nationwide capabilities, ERC members are often organized into working groups to achieve outcomes and solve problems tied to research and development, grant-funding requirements, capability assessments, and best practices guidelines for the Nation to use in their planning and investment decisions.

Collaborative Outcomes

A small sampling of the SAFECOM EC/ERC collective successes to lead teams and forge partnerships, set visions, develop guiding principles, measure progress, avoid duplication and mobilize support for federal partners to use in their emergency communications initiatives include:

Interoperability Continuum. The Interoperability Continuum is a tool designed to aid the emergency response community and federal, state, local and tribal policy makers to help address critical elements for success as they plan and implement interoperability solutions. These elements include governance, standard operating procedures, technology, training and exercises, and usage of interoperable communications. This tool was established to depict the core facets of interoperability according to the needs and challenges of the emergency response community. The Interoperability Continuum assists emergency response practitioners and policy makers in their short- and long-term interoperability efforts.

Statement of Requirements. SAFECOM released the first-ever Statement of Requirements (SoR) for public safety communications interoperability in April 2004. This statement defines future requirements for crucial voice and data communications in day-to-day, task force, and mutual aid operations. In April 2006, SAFECOM released an updated version of the SoR with refinements based on input from the emergency response community.

With the SoR, the nation's 60,000 emergency response agencies — for the first time — have a document that serves as a first step toward establishing base-level communications and interoperability standards for all emergency response agencies. The SoR helps the emergency response community convey a shared vision that ultimately will help private industry better align research and development efforts with critical interoperable communication needs.

Statewide Communication Interoperability Plan (SCIP). SAFECOM, with input from state and local practitioners, developed a comprehensive set of criteria that states were encouraged to follow as they develop comprehensive statewide communications plans. In 2006, eight states had SCIPs. In 2008, OEC approved SCIPs for all 56 states and territories. These SCIPs then provided valuable information into the development of the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP).

National Emergency Communications Plan.

  • ERC Practitioner Action Teams developed guiding principles and draft initiatives for nationwide planning efforts in the winter of 2007.
  • An EC/ERC NECP Working Group was created in the spring of 2008 to provide practitioner input into the development of the NECP. (The NECP was developed in cooperation with more than 150 emergency communications leaders at all levels of government and within the private sector; the NECP reflects the needs and requirements of the federal, state, local and tribal emergency response communities. This was accomplished through approximately 50 stakeholder engagements such as conference calls, working group meetings and practitioner interviews).
  • With extensive practitioner input, OEC released the first NECP in July 2008.

Plain Language Endorsements. In the winter of 2007-2008, EC/ERC created a working group to provide practitioner input on the use of technology, governance, and standard operating procedures, to develop coded language systems called 10-codes to communicate over the radio. These 10-codes; however, are not standardized across disciplines and jurisdictions, leading to confusion and miscommunication during emergency responses.

  • With significant input from the EC and ERC, SAFECOM created a brochure to help states and localities transition from 10-codes to plain language during radio transmissions.
  • In October 2008, SAFECOM plain-language endorsements included the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International Inc. (APCO), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) and National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC).

SAFECOM Recommended Guidance for Federal Grant Programs.

  • The SAFECOM Recommended Guidance for Federal Grant Programs was developed beginning in 2003 to better coordinate the way in which federal grant dollars for interoperable communications are allocated and spent.
  • The EC/ERC provided input to the 2009 fiscal year SAFECOM Recommended Guidance for Federal Grant Programs.
  • OEC developed the fiscal year 2009 guidance to ensure alignment of state, local and tribal investment of federal grant funding to statewide and national goals and objectives; and support and facilitate consistent and measurable progress in strengthening emergency communications capabilities.

Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program (IECGP).

  • The purpose of the IECGP is to help states, territories, local units of government and tribal communities implement interoperability initiatives that align to achieving the goals and milestones of the NECP and SCIPs.
  • EC/ERC provided input to the fiscal year 2009 IECGP in the fall of 2008.
  • The input provided to OEC is critical to help understand state and local budget conditions and ensure that state and local priorities across all facets of the Interoperability Continuum are addressed.

CHARLES WERNER, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 34-year veteran of the fire service and serves as the chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. He also serves on the Virginia Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, the Virginia Secure Commonwealth Panel, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council Governing Board and the IAFC Communications Committee. Werner is chair of the IAFC Technology Council, first vice president of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association and chair of the DHS SAFECOM Executive Committee.