Communications Interoperability: ''Virginia Style''

Approximately two years ago, the Virginia Fire Chiefs along with other public safety representatives (Police, Fire and EMS) were asked to participate on the Governor's First Responder Interoperability Working Group. In a little over a year, some significant recommendations were made to and approved by the Secure Virginia Panel. Those recommendations included:

  • Create the an Interoperability presence under the Secretary of Public Safety
  • Develop grant guidance for interoperability
  • Develop a Statewide Interoperability Strategic Plan
  • Hire a full-time Interoperability Coordinator
  • Develop and conduct a Virginia Interoperability Conference

Needless to say, each of these items would be considered lofty goals and would require significant thought and effort to accomplish. Surprisingly, in less than one year from the actual approval of these recommendations, all of the aforementioned goals have been achieved. Through the hard work of many individuals on the Interoperability Working Group, the strong presence of the newly hired Interoperability Coordinator (Chris Essid), the strong support by Governor Mark Warner, Public Safety Secretary John Marshall, Chief Deputy Secretary of Public Safety Bob Crouch, Assistant to the Governor George Foresman, members of the Secure Virginia Initiative, the staff at SAFECOM and Touchstone Consulting - much has been accomplished.

As you may have read through earlier reports, the Virginia Interoperability Strategic Plan was done in cooperation with the national SAFECOM Program and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Virginia's strategic planning process involved meetings with various public safety providers across Virginia, which included the smallest rural towns to the largest urban cities. The Strategic Plan, which was approved by Governor Mark Warner in October 2004, has become a national model. Virginia's Strategic Plan can be downloaded from the following website:

As part of the plan, it was identified that there would need to be a governance developed to guide and implement the plan. In keeping with the national model, the governance would be established with a clear understanding that it must be practitioner driven by having public safety representation on the Executive Committee. The representation on this committee was not an easy task. The Committee must represent public safety but not to the point that it became too large to function effectively. For each individual discipline, it became apparent that every significant organization could not be represented. The goal is to have representation from multiple organizations within a discipline - shared by one discipline representative. I was chosen to serve on the Executive Committee and I have been given the responsibility to reach out to all of the other Virginia fire service and EMS organizations as a voice for concerns or issues that agencies would like to have addressed. In addition to fire service representation, I have been asked and agreed to serve (for one year) as Virginia's First Responder/State Interoperability Executive Committee Chair.

Additionally, an Advisory Committee will be forthcoming to expand the involvement of many other agencies.

On another positive note, there will be grants that will be made available to localities across Virginia in excess of $1.7M that will help to further improve Interoperability throughout Virginia in conjunction with the VA State Interoperability Plan.

In closing, it is critical for everyone to understand that Virginia's Interoperability Strategic Plan is the beginning of a long journey that will never end. This plan will continue to evolve and the plan's success is dependent upon continued input and participation.

For general Commonwealth Interoperability questions, they should be directed to: