February 6, 2003

Public Safety Requires Ability to Share Radio Communications, Says New Guide for Local and Public Safety Officials
18 National Organizations Seek Funding for Interoperability Improvements

Washington, DC -- Today, the National Taskforce on Interoperability released its final report for public officials on public safety communications demonstrating the urgent need for public safety officials to increase interoperability - the ability to share existing radio communications and infrastructure in times of an emergency.

According to the report, "popular television shows and movies portray public safety officials as seamlessly coordinated in their communication and response efforts. The reality is different. When public safety agencies communicate with each other, it usually occurs through communication centers - radio operators shuffling messages back and forth between agencies - or through commercial cellular services."

During local catastrophes such as a terrorist attack or a major traffic accident, multiple agencies respond including the local police, local firefighters, local emergency medical personal and State police. Unfortunately, in most areas few if any of these agencies have the capability to quickly share information directly with each other, when lives and property are at stake.

Recognizing that solutions to this national issue must be achieved through cooperation between all levels of government, 18 national associations representing State and local elected and appointed officials and public safety officials formed the National Taskforce on Interoperability to address this issue.

The report released addresses recommendations on spectrum needs, funding and cooperation between all levels of government. Some of the key findings include -

  • Five key reasons why public safety agencies can't communicate - incompatible equipment among jurisdictions and aging equipment; limited funding to update or replace expensive radio equipment; limited and fragmented planning causing wasted money and competition among jurisdictions; lack of coordination and cooperation; and limited and fragmented radio spectrum available to public safety.

  • Accessing Interoperability in your community - determine types of emergencies such as traffic accidents that occur in your community and who would respond; which agencies need to talk to one another on a daily basis; who should be in communication in the first 8 hours of an emergency; who will need to be added to the initial group if the emergency surpasses the 8 hours?

  • Tips on how a community can achieve Interoperability - develop a plan for improving Interoperability that includes goals and objectives; outline problems or needs to be addressed; identify potential partners; propose a detailed budget; outline a marketing strategy; and include an operational plan that addresses how the project will be funded.

  • Funding Strategies - utilize shared systems that will automatically reduce shared costs for agencies; use of existing infrastructures; and obtain pricing information from other governmental units that have already contracted with prospective vendors.

At the press conference held at the National Press Club, National Associations also called on Congress to create a permanent public interest trust fund - built with the proceeds from the auction of spectrum licenses to the public's airways that would support grants to promote interoperability efforts.

Members of the National Taskforce on Interoperability include representatives of the following 18 national associations: Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Major Cities Chiefs (MCC), Major County Sheriffs' Association (MCSA), The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC), National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), National Association of State Telecommunications Directors (NASTD), National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), National Governors Association (NGA), National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC), National Sheriffs' Association (NSA), and The Council of State Governments (CSG).


Lina Garcia (USCM), 202-861-6719
John Pionke (NLC), 202-626-3051
Tom Goodman (NACo), 202-942-4222


©2004 U.S. Conference of Mayors