Public Safety Interoperable Communications Baseline Study

In the very near future, you will begin to hear about a study that is designed to measure public safety interoperable communications across the country. This study is titled, "The Public Safety Interoperable Communications Baseline Measurement" and is being facilitated by SAFECOM.


SAFECOM is the umbrella program within the federal government to help local, tribal, state, and federal public safety agencies improve public safety response through more effective and efficient interoperable wireless communications. Communications interoperability is the ability of public safety 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 needed, and as authorized. As a public safety practitioner driven program, SAFECOM is working with existing federal communications initiatives and key public safety stakeholders to address the need to develop better technologies and processes for the cross-jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary coordination.

A Baseline Study - Why?

Members of public safety are well aware that communications interoperability has been a documented problem for decades. More recently following catastrophic events, interoperability became the buzzword among legislators and money immediately became available to solve this national problem. Money is clearly needed and has helped to improve this problem but it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of these programs. The inability to adequately measure interoperability stirs the difficult question of just how much money is needed to solve the problem. Depending on who is speaking, the range is very diverse.

Over the past eight years, several studies have been conducted to evaluate communications interoperability. While these studies identified that interoperability was and remains a problem, they were done within disciplines and did not serve as a comprehensive study across public safety disciplines and between the various levels of government.

The President and Congress have agreed that interoperable communications with public safety is a serious problem that must be addressed and have provided funding to do so. However, the inability to quantify need and/or success creates a difficult environment to compete for federal funding against all of the many other interests that do have the ability to effectively identify need and success.

Scope of the Study

According to SAFECOM, "The SAFECOM effort will utilize an existing definition of interoperability and develop a descriptive and measurable definition of interoperable communications for public safety first responders. The work for this effort is divided into five phases, with an anticipated completion in 2005. The phases include:

  • The creation and development of a summary and analysis of past interoperability studies
  • The development of a descriptive and measurable definition for public safety interoperable communications
  • The development of a methodology for measuring the state of interoperability nationwide
  • The fielding and execution of the survey detailed in the methodology
  • The formulation a measurement of the current level of public safety interoperable communications nationwide"

This baseline study will be the first to take a comprehensive approach to understand all of the components that are necessary to achieve interoperability across public safety disciplines and between levels of government. It is well documented that interoperability is more than technology and for that reason, the study will encompass areas such as technical, policy and operational. As the word baseline indicates, it provides a beginning point from which to measure future success. The study also makes it possible to develop solid milestones for measuring interoperability improvement.

Why Is It Important to Public Safety?

The value of this study to public safety is that it will provide a national baseline measurement on interoperable communications or more simply stated "the current state." This will help to develop a gap analysis between the current state (where we are today) and future desired state (where we need to be). More significantly, the study establishes an official foundation on which Congress can justify and quantify future funding for public safety. The study also serves as the means to an end toward the development of a long term strategy to achieve public safety communications interoperability. This officially makes the case that communications interoperability must be an ongoing process and will hopefully secure a long term commitment from Congress.

This baseline study is important to public safety because it is much like a map of where we are today, where we want to be in the future and a measurement device to determine the most effective route and funding to get to the desired destination.

What Can You Do?

As a fire chief or public safety leader, once released - you can promptly respond to the baseline study to insure that the necessary information is provided to enable a comprehensive outcome.