Homeland Security: Challenges in Achieving Interoperable Communications for First Responders

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-11-06.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittees of the
                             Government Reform Committee,
                             House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST
Thursday, November 6, 2003   HOMELAND SECURITY
                             Challenges in Achieving
                             Communications for First
                             Statement of William O. Jenkins, Jr. 

                             Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues 


                                                November 6, 2003

                                                HOMELAND SECURITY

                                                Challenges in Achieving Interoperable
Highlights of GAO-04-231T, a report to          Communications for First Responders
Congressional Requesters,
Subcommittees of House Government
Reform Committee

The inability of first responders—              Interoperability problems existed among public safety agencies for many
police officers, firemen, hazardous             years prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Reports on incidents
materials teams, emergency                      have documented a number of problems in public safety wireless
medical service personnel, and                  communications. For over 15 years the Federal Government has been
others—to communicate                           concerned about public safety spectrum issues, including communications
effectively with one another as
                                                interoperability issues. A variety of federal agencies have been involved in
needed during an emergency is a
long-standing and widely                        defining the problem and identifying potential solutions. In addition,
recognized problem in many areas                Congress has taken several actions over the past two decades to address the
across the country. When first                  availability and use of public safety wireless spectrum. The events of
responders cannot communicate                   September 11 have resulted in greater public and governmental focus on the
effectively as needed, it can                   role of first responders and their capacity to respond to emergencies,
literally cost lives—of both                    including those resulting from terrorist incidents.
emergency responders and those
they are trying to assist. At the               The interoperability issues that the nation faces today did not arise overnight
request of the Chairman of the full             and they will not be successfully addressed overnight. Federal, state, and
committee, we are examining the                 local governments face several major challenges in addressing
barriers to improved                            interoperability in their wireless communications.
interoperability and the roles that
federal, state, and local
governments can play in improving                   • 	 The first challenge is to clearly identify and define the problem. For
wireless interoperability                               example, it is important to recognize that interoperable
communications.                                         communications is not an end in itself, but it is rather one
                                                        component for achieving an important goal--the ability to respond
                                                        effectively to and mitigate incidents that require the coordinated
                                                        actions of first responders.
Because our work is ongoing, we
are not yet making
recommendations. However based                      • 	 The second challenge is whether and how to establish national
on our work to date, we identify                        interoperability performance goals and standards and balance them
several major challenges federal,                       with the flexibility needed to address differences in state, regional
state, and local governments must                       and local needs and conditions.
address. Effectively addressing
these challenges requires                           • 	 The third challenge is defining the roles of federal, state, and local
collaboration of all first responders                   governments and other entities in defining the problem,
and all levels of government.                           implementing any national goals and standards, and assessing
Failure to do so risks spending                         alternative means of achieving those goals and standards.
funds ineffectively and creating
new problems in our attempt to
resolve existing ones.
                                                The fundamental barrier to successfully addressing these challenges has
                                                been the lack of effective, collaborative, interdisciplinary and
                                                intergovernmental planning. No one first responder group or governmental
                                                agency can successfully “fix” the interoperability problems that face our
                                                nation. It will require the partnership, leadership, and coordinated planning
                                                of everyone involved.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact William
Jenkins, Jr. at (202) 512-8757 or
               Messrs. Chairmen and Members of the Subcommittees:

               I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to discuss the critical issue
               of wireless interoperable communications for first responders. The
               inability of first responders—police officers, fire fighters, emergency
               medical service personnel, public health officials, and others—to
               communicate effectively with one another as needed during an emergency
               is a long-standing and widely recognized problem in many areas across the
               country. Reports have shown that when first responders cannot
               communicate effectively as needed, it can literally cost lives—of both
               emergency responders and those they are trying to assist. Thus, effective
               interoperable communications between and among wireless
               communications systems used by federal, state, and local public safety
               agencies is generally accepted as not only desirable but essential for the
               protection of life and property. The effective interoperability of these
               wireless systems permits a rapid and coordinated response to an
               emergency incident, whether that incident is a “routine” spill from an
               overturned tanker truck or railcar, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.

               At the request of the Chairman of the full committee, we are examining the
               barriers to improved interoperability and the roles that federal, state, and
               local governments can play in improving wireless interoperability
               communications.1 Our work is ongoing. To date, we have contacted state
               and local officials in several states, attended professional meetings, and
               opened discussion with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and
               other key federal agencies. We are conducting our work in accordance
               with generally accepted government auditing standards. My testimony
               today focuses on the broad and complex nature of the interoperability
               issue and the challenges the nation faces in addressing this issue.

               Interoperability problems existed among public safety agencies for many
Background 	   years prior to the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and New York
               City. Reports on incidents have documented a number of problems in
               public safety wireless communications. For example, the National Task
               Force on Interoperability (NTFI) documented interoperability problems in

                Our work addresses public safety wireless communications interoperability issues. Thus,
               we do not address interoperability problems found in other homeland security functions,
               such as fire equipment, chem-bio equipment, and information technology.

               Page 1                                                                     GAO-04-231T
several states - including South Dakota, Indiana, and Minnesota--that had
developed over a number of years.2

For over 15 years the federal government has been concerned about public
safety spectrum issues, including communications interoperability issues.
A variety of federal agencies have been involved in defining the problem
and identifying potential solutions. In addition, Congress has taken several
actions over the past two decades to address the availability and use of the
public safety wireless spectrum.

The events of September 11, 2001, have resulted in greater public and
governmental focus on the role of first responders and their capacity to
respond to emergencies, including those resulting from terrorist incidents.
One result has been significantly increased federal funding for state and
local first responders, including funding to improve interoperable
communications among federal, state, and local first responders. In fiscal
year 2003 , Congress appropriated at least $154 million for interoperability
through a variety of grants administered by the Department of Homeland
Security, the Department of Justice, and other agencies.

In addition to appropriating more funds, the executive branch and
Congress have attempted to consolidate federal efforts and coordinate
federal grant programs. Within the executive branch, the Office of
Management and Budget in 2001 created the Wireless Public SAFEty
Interoperable COMmunications Program, or SAFECOM, 3 to unify the
federal government’s efforts to help coordinate the work at the federal,
state, local and tribal levels, in order to provide reliable public safety
communications and achieve national wireless communications

National Task Force on Interoperability, WHY CAN’T WE TALK? Working Together To
Bridge the Communications Gap To Save Lives, February, 2003.
    SAFECOM is one of the President’s 24 E-GOV initiatives.
 The description of SAFECOM’s mission is taken from the Administrator for E-government
and IT, the Office of Management and Budget letter to the attendees of the SAFECOM,
National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Institute of Justice Summit on
Interoperable Communications For Public Safety.

Page 2                                                                      GAO-04-231T
                       The interoperability issues that the nation faces today did not arise
Summary                overnight and they will not be successfully addressed overnight. Federal,
                       state, and local governments face several major challenges in addressing
                       interoperability in their wireless communications. The first challenge is to
                       clearly identify and define the problem, recognizing that interoperable
                       communications is but a means to an end–the ability to respond effectively
                       to any incident that requires the coordinated actions of first responders.
                       The second is whether and how to establish national interoperability
                       performance goals and standards and to balance them with the flexibility
                       needed to address differences in state, regional, and local needs and
                       conditions. The third challenge is defining the roles of federal, state, and
                       local governments and other entities in identifying the communication
                       problem, implementing any national performance goals and standards, and
                       assessing alternative means of achieving those goals and standards. The
                       fundamental barrier to successfully addressing these challenges has been
                       the lack of effective, collaborative, interdisciplinary and intergovernmental
                       planning. No one first responder group or governmental agency can
                       successfully “fix” the interoperability problems that face our nation. It will
                       require the partnership, leadership, and coordinated planning of everyone
                       involved .

                       In discussing the issue of interoperable communications, it is important to
The First Challenge:   recognize that interoperable communications is not merely a technological
Identifying and        issue or an end in itself. It is rather a key means of achieving a desirable
                       objective—the effective response to and mitigation of events or incidents
Defining the           that require the coordinated actions of emergency responders. These
Interoperability       events could encompass a wide range of possibilities, such as multi-
                       vehicle accidents, major floods or wildfires, or a terrorist attack that
Problem                involved thousands of injuries.

                       Interoperable communications is also but one component, although an
                       important one, of an effective incident command planning and operations
                       structure. As a standard practice, public safety agencies are to establish
                       communications capabilities to support command and control of their
                       operations at an incident scene. Determining the most appropriate means
                       of achieving interoperable communications must flow from an effective
                       planning and operations structure that identifies who is in charge and who
                       must be able to communicate what information to whom under what
                       circumstances. For example, there are likely to be both similarities and
                       differences in the interoperable communications capacities, protocols, and
                       participants associated with responding to seasonally predictable wildfires
                       and terrorist attacks that involve biological agents.

                       Page 3                                                           GAO-04-231T
                                   Defining the range of interoperability capacity needed requires identifying
                                   the types of events for which interoperable communications would be
                                   needed, the participants involved in responding to those events—by
                                   professional discipline and jurisdiction—and an operational definition of
                                   who is charge and who would need to communicate what types of
                                   information (e.g., voice, data, or both) with whom under what
                                   circumstances. These are not easy tasks, and they require both a multi-
                                   disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional perspective. But these tasks are a
                                   precursor to assessing the current problems—e.g., operational, technical,
                                   and fiscal—that exist in meeting interoperable communication needs and
                                   alternative means of achieving identified interoperable communications

                                   But more importantly, interoperability is not a static issue--it is an issue
                                   that is affected by changes in technology and the changing events and
                                   threats for which first responders must be prepared. Thus, there is no
                                   single, long-term solution; the issue is one that must be periodically
                                   reassessed as needs and technology change.

Interoperability Is Not a          The issues and problems in defining and scoping what is meant by
Static Issue                       “interoperability” are not static. They evolve over time in a fluid and ever-
                                   changing environment of evolving threats and events for which we need to
                                   be prepared to respond, new operational requirements, new spectrum
                                   bands for public safety use, and new technology.

The Evolving Definition of First   Public safety officials generally recognize that interoperable
Responders                         communications is the ability to talk with whom they want, when they
                                   want, when authorized, but not the ability to talk with everyone all of the
                                   time. However, there is no standard definition of communications
                                   interoperability. Nor is there a “one size fits all” requirement for who
                                   needs to talk to whom.

                                   Traditionally, first responders have been considered to be fire, police and
                                   emergency medical service personnel. However, in a description of public
                                   safety challenges, a federal official noted that the attacks of September 11,
                                   2001, have blurred the lines between public safety and national security.
                                   According to the Commission, effective preparedness for combating
                                   terrorism at the local level requires a network that includes public health
                                   departments, hospitals and other medical providers, and offices of

                                   Page 4                                                             GAO-04-231T
                                 emergency management, in addition to the traditional police, fire, and
                                 emergency medical services first responders.5 Furthermore, Congress
                                 recognized the expanded definition of first responder in the Homeland
                                 Security Act of 2002, which defined “emergency response providers” as
                                 “Federal, State, and local emergency public safety, law enforcement,
                                 emergency response, emergency medical (including hospital emergency
                                 facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities.”6

Reexamining the Jurisdictional   The context of the communications also affects the definition of the
Boundaries of Interoperability   problem. Two key studies in the late 1990s sponsored by the Department
                                 of Justice (DOJ) and the Public Safety Wireless Network (PSWN)7 program
                                 provide a nationwide picture of wireless interoperability issues among
                                 federal, state, and local police, fire, and emergency medical service
                                 agencies at that time.8 Both studies describe most local public safety
                                 agencies as interacting with other local agencies on a daily or weekly
                                 basis. As a result, most local agencies had more confidence in establishing
                                 radio links with one another than with state agencies, with whom they less
                                 frequently interact. Local public safety agencies interact with federal
                                 agencies least of all, with a smaller percentage of local agencies
                                 expressing confidence in their ability to establish radio links with federal
                                 agencies. The events of September 11, 2001, have resulted in a
                                 reexamination of the circumstances in which interoperable
                                 communications should extend across political jurisdictions and levels of

Interoperable Needs Are          Another issue is the broad range of scenarios in which interoperable
Scenario Driven and Change       communications are required. Public safety officials have pointed out that
Over Time                        interoperability is situation specific, based on whether communications
                                 are needed for (1) “mutual-aid responses” or routine day-to-day

                                 Third Annual Report to the President and the Congress of the Advisory Panel to Assess
                                 Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction,
                                 December 15, 2001.
                                     Homeland Security Act, P.L. 107-296, section 2 (6).
                                  The Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury formed the Public Safety
                                 Wireless Network Program (PSWN) to promote effective public safety communications
                                 and to foster interoperability among local, state, federal, and tribal communications
                                 systems. PSWN was incorporated into the new Department of Homeland Security as part of
                                 the SAFECOM project in 2003.
                                  The DOJ study concentrated on wireless interoperability issues within the state and local
                                 law enforcement community, while the PSWN study assessed communications
                                 interoperability issues within the fire and emergency medical services communities.

                                 Page 5                                                                       GAO-04-231T
                                  coordination between two local agencies; (2) extended task force
                                  operations involving members of different agencies coming together to
                                  work on a common problem; or (3) a major event that requires response
                                  from a variety of local, state, and federal agencies. One official breaks the
                                  major event category into three separate types of events:

                             •	   planned events, such as the Olympics, for which plans can be made in

                             •	   recurring events, such as major wildfires and hurricanes, that can be
                                  expected every year and for which contingency plans can be prepared
                                  based on past experience, and

                             •    unplanned events, such as the September 11th attacks, that can rapidly
                                  overwhelm the ability of local forces to handle the problem.

Technological Changes Also        As technology changes, it presents new problems and opportunities for
Affect Interoperability           achieving and maintaining effective interoperable communications.
                                  According to one official, in the 1980s, a method of voice transmission
                                  called “trunking” became available that allowed more efficient use of
                                  spectrum. However, three different and incompatible trunking
                                  technologies developed, and these systems are not interoperable. This
                                  official noted that as mobile data communications becomes more
                                  prevalent and new digital technologies are introduced, standards become
                                  more important.

                                  Technical standards for interoperable communications are still under
                                  development. Beginning in 1989, a partnership between industry and the
                                  public safety user community developed what is known as Project 25 (P-
                                  25) standards. According to the PSWN program office, Project 25
                                  standards remain the only user-defined set of standards in the United
                                  States for public safety communications. The Department of Homeland
                                  Security has recently decided to purchase radios that incorporate the P-25
                                  standards for the each of the nation’s 28 urban search and rescue teams.
                                  PSWN believes P-25 is an important step toward achieving
                                  interoperability, but the standards do not mandate interoperability among
                                  all manufacturers’ systems. Standards development continues today as
                                  new technologies emerge that meet changing user needs and new policy

                                  In addition, new public safety mission requirements for video, imaging,
                                  and high speed data transfers, new and highly complex digital

                                  Page 6                                                            GAO-04-231T
                        communications systems, and the use of commercial wireless systems, are
                        potential sources of new interoperability problems.

                        Availability of new spectrum can also result in new technologies and
                        require further development of technical standards. For example, the FCC
                        recently designated a new band of spectrum, the 4.9 Gigahertz (GHz) band,
                        for public safety uses and sought comments on various issues, including
                        licensing and service rules. The FCC provided this additional spectrum to
                        public safety users to support new broadband applications, such as high-
                        speed digital technologies and wireless local area networks for incident
                        scene management. The Federal Communications (FCC) in particular
                        requested comments on the implementation of technical standards for
                        fixed and mobile operations on the band. The National Public Safety
                        Telecommunications Council9 has established a task force that includes
                        work on interoperability standards for the 4.9 GHz band.

                        When the interoperability problem has been sufficiently defined and
Second Challenge:       bounded, the next challenge will be to develop national interoperability
Establishing National   performance goals and technical standards that balance consistency with
                        the need for flexibility in adapting them to state and regional needs and
Goals and               circumstances.

Lack of National        One key barrier to development of a national interoperability strategy is
Requirements            the lack of a statement of national mission requirements for public
                        safety—what set of communications capabilities should be built or
                        acquired—and a strategy to get there. The report of the Independent Task
                        Force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations on emergency
                        responders said national standards of preparedness have not been defined
                        and that the lack of a methodology to determine national requirements for
                        emergency preparedness constitutes a national crisis.10 The report

                         Formed May 1, 1977, the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council is a
                        federation representing public safety telecommunications. The purpose of NPSTC is to
                        follow up on the recommendations of the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee
                        (PSWAC). In addition, NPSTC acts as a resource and advocate for public safety
                        telecommunications issues.
                         Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations; Emergency
                        Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared.

                        Page 7                                                                    GAO-04-231T
                             recommended these standards be prepared for federal, state, and local
                             emergency responders in such areas as training, interoperable
                             communications systems, and response equipment. SAFECOM officials
                             have noted that no standard, guidance, or national strategy exists on
                             interoperability. DOJ officials told us they are working with SAFECOM to
                             develop a statement of requirements that should be ready for release by
                             May 1, 2004.

Need for an                  To guide the creation of interoperable communications, there must be an
Interoperability Blueprint   explicit and commonly understood and agreed-to blueprint, or
                             architecture, for effectively and efficiently guiding modernization efforts.
                             For a decade, GAO has promoted the use of architectures, recognizing
                             them as a crucial means to a challenging goal: agency operational
                             structures that are optimally defined in both business and technological
                             environments. An enterprise architecture provides a clear and
                             comprehensive picture of an entity, whether it is an organization (e.g., a
                             federal department or agency) or a functional or mission area that cuts
                             across more than one organization (e.g., financial management). In August
                             2003, DHS released its initial enterprise architecture that it described as
                             conceptual in nature.. We are in the process of reviewing this architecture
                             at the request of the Chairman, Subcommittee on Technology, Information
                             Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, Committee on
                             Government Reform.

Need For Flexibility         There is no single “silver bullet” solution to interoperability needs. Our
                             ongoing work indicates that communications interoperability problems
                             facing any given locality or state tend to be situation specific, with no
                             universally applicable solution. For example, the Association of Public
                             Safety Communications Officials (APCO) noted in its White Paper on
                             Homeland Security that various methods are possible to achieve
                             interoperability but planning is an essential first step to choosing a
                             solution. APCO noted that interoperability does not involve a single
                             product or system approach; rather it is accomplished with a variety of
                             solutions with a focus on the first responder. APCO noted that what is an
                             appropriate interoperability solution varies with the operation of the

                             Page 8                                                          GAO-04-231T
                         particular government agencies, their funding, their physical location, and
                         other individual circumstances.11

                         In addition, the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee’s (PSWAC)
                         final report noted that the public safety community has some common
                         operational requirements, such as dispatch communications and
                         transmission of operational and tactical instructions. However, the
                         PSWAC report also describes agencies’ specialized requirements that are
                         based on specific missions and operating environments. For example, the
                         report notes forestry and state police have long distance requirements
                         where foliage can be a problem for higher frequency systems. In contrast,
                         a metropolitan police department may need highly reliable in-building
                         coverage, which is not a requirement for state police mobile operations.
                         Those state and local officials we have interviewed to date have stated that
                         they want to retain flexibility when addressing communications issues.
                         For example, Virginia state officials noted that geographical locations
                         within the state present different interoperability requirements. They said
                         interoperability problems differ from locality to locality, and that solutions
                         must be developed that fit the specific circumstances of the individual
                         geography and situation.

                         As noted above, the federal government has a long history in addressing
Third Challenge: Need    federal, state, and local government public safety issues–in particular
to Define                interoperability issues. The Government Reform Committee has also
                         recently contributed to the development of policies. In October 2002 the
Intergovernmental        Committee issued a report entitled “How Can the Federal Government
Roles                    Better Assist State and Local Governments in Preparing for a Biological,
                         Chemical, or Nuclear Attack “(Report 107-766). The Committee’s first
                         finding was that incompatible communication systems impede
                         intergovernmental coordination efforts. The Committee recommended
                         that the federal government take a leadership role in resolving the
                         communications interoperability problem.

Federal Efforts to       The federal role in addressing the interoperability of public safety wireless
Establish A Leadership   communications continues to evolve. Today, a combination of many
Role                     federal agencies, programs, and associations are involved in coordinating

                          The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, The APCO International
                         Homeland Security White Paper, August 2002.

                         Page 9                                                                   GAO-04-231T
emergency communications. In June 2003, SAFECOM partnered with the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National
Institute of Justice (NIJ) to hold a summit that brought together over 60
entities involved with communications interoperability policy setting or
programs. According to NIST, the summit familiarized key interoperability
players with work being done by others and provided insight into where
additional federal resources may be needed.

The SAFECOM program was initially established within Justice in 2001
and was transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA) in 2002 before being brought into DHS in early 2003. The current
director said his program is responsible for outreach to local, state, and
federal public safety agencies to assist in interoperability planning and
implementation. In an August 2003 briefing, SAFECOM stated its role is to
serve “as the umbrella program within the federal government to
coordinate the efforts of local, tribal, state and federal public safety
agencies working to improve public safety response through more
effective, efficient, interoperable wireless communications.” In the
briefing, SAFECOM officials said they have begun to implement this
coordination role by setting objectives to develop a national public safety
communications strategy, providing supporting standards and guidance;
developing funding mechanisms and guidance, and creating a national
training and technical assistance program.

SAFECOM officials have also stated that SAFECOM has taken several
other actions to implement its role as the umbrella program to coordinate
actions of the federal government. For example, in coordination with
officials of other agencies, it developed guidance for federal grants
supporting public safety communications and interoperability. The
guidance is designed to provide an outline of who is eligible for the grants,
purposes for which grant funds can be used and eligibility specifications
for applicants. The guidance requires that, at a minimum, applicants must”
define the objectives of what the applicant is ultimately trying to
accomplish and how the proposed project would fit into an overall effort
to increase interoperability, as well as identify potential partnerships for
agreements.” Additionally, the guidance recommends, but does not
require, that applicants establish a governance group consisting of local,
tribal, state, and federal entities from relevant public safety disciplines and
purchase interoperable equipment that is compliant with phase one of
Project-25 standards.

Although SAFECOM is the umbrella program to coordinate actions of the
federal government, it does not include all major federal efforts aimed at

Page 10                                                           GAO-04-231T
promoting wireless interoperability for first responders. Specifically, the
Justice Department continues to play a major role in interoperability after
the establishment of DHS. Key Justice programs–the Advanced Generation
of Interoperability for Law Enforcement (AGILE) and the Community
Oriented Policing Services–did not transition to the SAFECOM program in
the new Department of Homeland Security. AGILE is the Department of
Justice program to assist state and local law enforcement agencies to
effectively and efficiently communicate with one another across agency
and jurisdictional boundaries. It is dedicated to studying interoperability
options and advising state and local law enforcement, fire fighters, and
emergency technicians. The SAFECOM program director also said most of
the federal research and development on prototypes is being conducted
within the AGILE program. The Department of Justice said it is also
creating a database for all federal grants to provide a single source of
information for states and localities to access, and to allow federal
agencies to coordinate federal funding awards to state and local agencies.
SAFECOM and AGILE officials told us they have an informal, but close
working relationship today, and that they are negotiating a memorandum
of understanding between the two programs. Federal officials also told us
that efforts are also under way by SAFECOM, AGILE, and other federal
agencies to coordinate work on technical assistance to state and local
governments and to develop and set interoperability standards. The
SAFECOM program may continue to face challenges in assuming a
leadership role for the federal government while these significant Justice
programs remain outside its domain.

SAFECOM officials will face complex issues when they address public
safety spectrum management and coordination. The National Governors’
Guide to Emergency Management noted that extensive coordination will
be required between the FCC and the National Telecomunications and
Information Agency (NTIA) to provide adequate spectrum and to enhance
shared local, state, and federal communications. However, the current
legal framework for domestic spectrum management is divided between
the NTIA within the Department of Commerce, which regulates federal
government spectrum use, and the Federal Communications Commission,
which regulates state, local, and other nonfederal spectrum use. In a
September 2002 report on spectrum management and coordination, GAO
found that FCC’s and NTIA’s efforts to manage their respective areas of
responsibility were not guided by a national spectrum strategy.12 The FCC

 TELECOMMUNICATIONS; Better Coordination and Enhanced Accountability Needed to
Improve Spectrum Management, GAO-02-906, September, 2002

Page 11                                                           GAO-04-231T
                             and the NTIA have conducted independent spectrum planning efforts and
                             have recently taken steps to improve coordination, but they have not yet
                             implemented long-standing congressional directives to conduct joint,
                             national spectrum planning. We recommended that the FCC and the NTIA
                             develop a strategy for establishing a clearly defined national spectrum
                             plan and submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees. In a
                             January 2003 report, we discussed several barriers to reforming spectrum
                             management in the United States.13

State Role in                The role that state and local governments will play in public safety
Interoperability Issues Is   communications is evolving. This role is being defined by states and local
Evolving                     governments as they address problems they recognize exist in their
                             communications systems and by the FCC and the NTIA. As noted by the
                             National Governors Association (NGA), many states are establishing a
                             foundation for cooperation and statewide planning through memorandums
                             of understanding or similar agreements.

                             Several states have or are taking executive and legislative actions to
                             address communications planning and interoperability planning. For
                             example, the Missouri State Interoperability Executive Committee was
                             created by the Missouri Department of Public Safety to enhance
                             communications interoperability among public safety entities in Missouri
                             by promoting available tools and relationships. The Missouri State
                             Interoperability Executive Committee established a Memorandum of
                             Understanding (MOU) that instructs public safety agencies within the state
                             to use the FCC designated interoperability channels under an Incident
                             Command/Incident Management structure. The MOU also attempts to
                             diminish operational interoperability barriers by creating common
                             operating procedures for the agencies to use on the channels.
                             Furthermore, in order to create a comprehensive approach to
                             interoperability that addresses new homeland security concerns, the State
                             of Missouri enacted the “Missouri Uniform Communications Act for
                             Homeland Security”, which established the State’s “Public Safety
                             Communications Committee.” This Committee is composed of
                             representatives from the Department of Public Safety, Office of Homeland
                             Security, Department of Conservation and Department of Transportation.
                             The committee reviews all public safety agencies’ plans that request state
                             or federal wireless communications funds and relies on the

                              TELECOMMUNICATIONS; Comprehensive Review of U.S. Spectrum Management With
                             Broad Stakeholder Involvement Is Needed,GAO-03-277, January, 2003

                             Page 12                                                         GAO-04-231T
                             recommendations of the Missouri Interoperability Executive Committee to
                             ensure that state decisions enhance interoperability.

                             Another state that uses the State Interoperability Executive Committee
                             structure to enhance communications interoperability is the State of
                             Washington, whose committee was established by state legislation
                             effective July 1, 2003. The Washington Committee was created under the
                             Information Services Board within the Department of Information
                             Services. The Committee’s members include representatives from the
                             Military, Transportation, Information Services and Natural Resources
                             departments; the Washington State Patrol; state and local fire chiefs;
                             police chiefs; sheriffs; and state and local emergency managers.
                             Washington legislation requires the Committee to submit to the State
                             legislature an inventory of all public safety systems within the state and a
                             plan to ensure the interoperability of those systems. The Committee was
                             given the authority to develop policies and procedures for emergency
                             communications systems across the state and to serve as the point of
                             contact for the FCC in the allocation, use and licensing of radio spectrum
                             for public safety and emergency communication systems.

                             Federal actions to support state efforts that address wireless
                             interoperability issues are still evolving. On the one hand, the Public Safety
                             Wireless Network program has supported state efforts to improve
                             multistate and individual statewide planning and coordination through a
                             number of projects that emphasize a regional approach. However, two
                             agencies of the federal government–the FCC and the NTIA–set rules and
                             regulations for state and local governments and federal government
                             wireless systems respectively.

The Regional or Shared       State and local efforts to address interoperability issues are widespread.
Approach                     The National Governors Association said in its recent Guide to Emergency
                             Management that interoperable equipment, procedures, and standards for
                             emergency responders are key to improving the effectiveness of mutual
                             aid agreements with other states and other jurisdictions. The NGA guide
                             calls for governors and their state homeland security directors to:

                         •   develop a statewide vision for interoperable communications;

                         •   ensure adequate wireless spectrum is available to accommodate all users;

                         •   invest in new communications infrastructure;

                             Page 13                                                          GAO-04-231T
                             •	   develop standards for technology and equipment, and partner with
                                  government and private industry.

                                  Specifically, states are taking action to facilitate strategic planning and
                                  interoperability planning that emphasize a shared approach at the
                                  multistate, state, and local levels. The Public Safety Wireless Network
                                  report notes that although in the past public safety agencies have
                                  addressed interoperability on an individual basis, more recently, local,
                                  state, and federal agencies have come to realize that they cannot do it
                                  alone. The report also notes that officials at all levels of government are
                                  now taking action to improve coordination and facilitate multi-
                                  jurisdictional interoperability. We talked to officials from several states
                                  about their states’ efforts to address interoperability issues on a regional
                                  basis. For example;

                             •	   State officials from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan have
                                  combined efforts to form a Mid-west Consortium to promote interstate
                                  interoperability. They have taken actions to form an interstate committee
                                  to develop interoperability plans and solicit support from key players such
                                  as local public safety agencies. The governors of the states have agreed to
                                  sign an MOU to signify that each state is willing to be interoperable with
                                  the other states and will provide communication assistance and resources
                                  to the other states, to the extent that it does not harm their own state.

                             •	   In Florida, the governor of the state issued an executive order in 2001 to
                                  establish seven Regional Domestic Security Task Forces that make up the
                                  entire state. Each of the regional task forces has a committee on
                                  interoperable communications under Florida’s Executive Interoperable
                                  Technologies Committee. The Florida legislature supported that effort by
                                  establishing the Task Forces in law and formally designating the Florida
                                  Department of Law Enforcement and the Division of Emergency
                                  Management as the lead agencies. The Task Forces consist of agencies
                                  from Fire/Rescue, Emergency Management, and public health and
                                  hospitals, as well as law enforcement. In addition, it includes partnerships
                                  with education/schools, business and private industry.

Statewide Interoperability        Public safety representatives have stressed the importance of planning in
Plans 	                           addressing communications interoperability issues. The Association of
                                  Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) has emphasized the
                                  importance of planning in addressing communications interoperability
                                  problems. In its Homeland Security white paper, APCO said that a plan for
                                  responding to terrorist events should include a section on how to address
                                  interoperability requirements. The creation of state interoperability plans

                                  Page 14                                                           GAO-04-231T
could help reduce the current fragmented public safety communications
planning process. Public safety agencies have historically planned and
acquired communications systems for their own jurisdictions without
concern for interoperability. This meant that each local and state agency
developed communications systems to meet their own requirements,
without regard to interoperability requirements to talk to adjacent
jurisdictions. For example, a PSWN anlaysis of Fire and EMS
communications interoperability found a significant need for coordinated
approaches, relationship building, and information sharing. However, the
PSWN program office found that public safety agencies have traditionally
developed or updated their radio systems independently to meet specific
mission needs. Each agency developed a sense of “ownership”, leading to
“turf issues” and resistance to change.

The SAFECOM program has reached similar conclusions. According to
SAFECOM, the priorities of local and state public safety communications
systems are first, to provide reliable agency specific communications;
second, to provide local interagency communications; and third, to
provide reliable interagency local/state/federal communications. In a
August 11, 2003, briefing document, SAFECOM noted that limited and
fragmented planning and cooperation was one barrier to public safety
wireless communications. SAFECOM noted a complex environment of
over 2.5 million public safety first responders within more than 44,000
agencies and the fragmented command structure–where each Chief of
Police sees himself as the Chairman of the Joint Staff in his jurisdiction–
but the Fire Chief disagrees. The briefing also noted that a multitude of
federal programs provide funding for interoperable communications with
no coordination of requirements or guidance and that local funding was
also stove-piped to meet individual agency needs. In a recent statement,
we identified 10 separate grant programs that could be used for first
responder equipment, including a number of these that can be used for
interoperable communications equipment. We stated that the fragmented
delivery of federal assistance can complicate coordination and integration
of services and planning at state and local levels.14

 Homeland Security: Reforming Federal Grants to Better Meet Outstanding Needs,
GAO-03-1146T, September 3, 2003

Page 15                                                                 GAO-04-231T
                        The barriers to successfully addressing the three challenges we have
The Fundamental         outlined are multifaceted. Among the organizations we have contacted or
Barrier to Success:     whose reports we have reviewed, we found a variety of identified barriers,
                        with a number of common barriers. For example, the SAFECOM project
The Absence of          and a task force of 18 national associations representing state and local
Effective Coordinated   elected and appointed officials and public safety officials15 identified
                        similar barriers: (1) incompatible and aging communications equipment,
Planning and            (2) limited and fragmented funding, (3) limited and fragmented planning
Collaboration           and cooperation, (4) limited and fragmented radio spectrum, and (5)
                        limited equipment standards.

                        Of all these barriers, perhaps the most fundamental has been limited and
                        fragmented planning and cooperation. The regional chairs of the Florida
                        State Interoperability Committee have noted that non-technical barriers
                        are the most important and difficult to solve. Police and fire departments
                        often have different concepts and doctrines on how to operate an incident
                        command post and use interoperable communications. Similarly, first
                        responders, such as police and fire departments, may use different
                        terminology to describe the same thing. Differences in terminology and
                        operating procedures can lead to communications problems even where
                        the participating public safety agencies share common communications
                        equipment and spectrum.

                        No one first responder group, jurisdiction, or level of government can
                        successfully address the challenges posed by the current state of
                        interoperable communications. Effectively addressing these challenges
                        requires the partnership, leadership, and collaboration of all first
                        responder disciplines, jurisdictions, and levels of government—local,
                        state, federal, and tribal. In the absence of that partnership and
                        collaboration, we risk spending funds ineffectively and creating new
                        problems in our attempt to resolve existing ones.

                         National Task Force on Interoperability, WHY CAN’T WE TALK? Working Together To
                        Bridge the Communications Gap To Save Lives, February, 2003.

                        Page 16                                                               GAO-04-231T
           That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairmen, and I would be pleased to
           answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittees may

           Page 17                                                     GAO-04-231T
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