Questions and Answers With OEC Director Chris Essid

DHS Unit Releases First National Emergency Communications Plan On July 31, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) released the first-ever National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), a joint...


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ESSID: In my opinion, every effort needs champions and this is no exception. The Governor's Assistant for Commonwealth Preparedness, Bob Crouch, was our biggest champion at the state level of government. He helped communicate the importance of the effort and obtain the resources needed to implement change. Additionally, the emergency responders on the SIEC served as champions to their respective practitioner groups to assist in driving change.

FIREHOUSE: How would you define interoperability and what is required to achieve it?

ESSID: Interoperability is simply the ability to communicate and share information (voice and/or data) as needed and when authorized. In my opinion, interoperability is a 90% coordination and 10% technology problem. Technologies assist in allowing us to be interoperable, but we must establish governance to discuss a coordinated path forward. In addition, we must develop standard operating procedures and conduct training and exercises to ensure that when incidents take place, we are ready and communication will not become an issue.

FIREHOUSE: What made you decide to pursue the director's position?

ESSID: I wanted to bring the lessons I learned in Virginia to the national level -- particularly that increased coordination among the federal, state, local and tribal levels of government will lead to more progress in advancing emergency communications around the nation. We have a responsibility to our emergency responders and to our citizens to ensure interoperability and emergency communications are something they can count on during day-to-day or disaster situations.

FIREHOUSE: What are the unique challenges that you face on a daily basis?

ESSID: OEC prides itself on being a practitioner-driven office; therefore, collaborating with our stakeholders at all levels of government is very important. The challenge lies in coordinating our efforts with so many stakeholders that we ensure everything that comes out of OEC reflects the input from the emergency response community -- the boots on the ground. Fortunately, so many practitioners from across the nation volunteer their time to help OEC develop practical and relevant initiatives to improve emergency communications. They participate in focus groups and organizations like the Federal Partnership for Interoperable Communications, SAFECOM Emergency Response Council and its Executive Committee. The response has been tremendous and it shows we are all focused on improving interoperability.

FIREHOUSE: What are the key issues and vision for OEC and interoperability?

ESSID: OEC strives to support and promote the ability of emergency responders and government officials to continue to communicate in the event of natural disasters, acts of terrorism or other man-made disasters. OEC's vision is to work toward nationwide interoperability. OEC's key issues include effectively coordinating and collaborating with its stakeholders, developing policy and planning that promotes its vision, and providing technical assistance to states and territories in support of their efforts to achieve nationwide interoperability.

CHARLES WERNER, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and is fire chief of the Charlottesville, VA, Fire Department. Chief Werner serves on the Virginia Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, the SAFECOM Executive Committee and the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council Governing Board.