Please Stand By: An Uncertain Future for a Nationwide Interoperability Network

October 7th, 2010

Last month, the New York Times highlighted an important and timely issue facing public safety organizations on a local, state, and national level: the need for a single nationwide public safety radio system.

The article highlights the current ongoing debate over a portion of radio spectrum called the “D Block,” which public safety officials say should be dedicated solely to them so they can build a nationwide wireless broadband system. The FCC and a group of legislators disagree, however, and support a plan where portions of the spectrum are auctioned off to private, commercial companies such as Motorola and AT&T, who will allow public safety officials onto their networks during an emergency. According to the article, the FCC likened the dedication of the entire D Block to public safety to “building a separate highway for the use of police cars and firetrucks, rather than having the public pull over to the side of the road when a firetruck or ambulance needs to pass.” Public safety officials and organizations are eager for this issue to be resolved, though no end is currently in sight and therefore, plans for a nationwide public safety radio system are on hold.

At CHHS, we are working with the Eastern Shore Communications Alliance (ESCA) to enhance regional interoperability by establishing governance and standard operating procedures and conducting training and exercises. The Alliance recognizes the importance of the D Block auction and is currently preparing to contact Maryland’s U.S. Senators and Eastern Shore congressmen and women regarding this important public safety issue.

Until the D Block issues are resolved and plans for a national network are in place, the Alliance will continue to focus on strengthening its own regional interoperability by enhancing its current radio systems, while also utilizing tools such as the Maryland Eastern Shore Interoperability Network (MESIN) and FEMA’s Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program (IECGP).

For information on ESCA’s Communications System Lifecycle Plan, which outlines ESCA’s plans to maintain its current equipment and purchase new equipment, click here.

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