Thoughts on Inter- and Intra- Operable Communication

Interoperability is not technical problem, and people need to stop talking about it as if it is. There is enough technology out there that if someone wants to bring to different groups to appear to be together on permanent or ad-hoc basis, they can. Interoperability is political problem. Technology can make the beat cop talk directly to the fire truck, and the NGO feeding station directly to the EMS squad – but do you think their respective chains of command want them to? The Federal Government and many others have spent lot of money and energy on the topic of interoperable communications. When the rubber boots hit the ground, how many organizations are fully capable of communicating within themselves?\\\\nSeriously, can understand the allure of having single radio that can easily dial in any first-responder agency or any support to first-responder organization. There is something to be said for that. Balance it with the fact that the Fire Chief wants to control his/her units, the Police Chief his/her’s and so on. That chief is ultimately responsible for all the people under their command. \\\\nIt is important as part of mutual aid that similarly-typed resources — which may be tactically ganged together — be able to communicate and therefore need interoperable communication. This is common highlight in after-action reports. An elegantly simple technique is to have extra radios to loan the incoming units. If it is common mutual aid scenario, then place the radios with that unit The first responders in most of the National Capitol Region have agreed on and implemented technical solution. It is pretty impressive when you’re provided one radio from cache that has all the participating counties and their agencies in separate talk groups, and the channels’ names within that group are identical to one issued to person in that group. Naturally, being comm. guy, took two: one to monitor and be on the channel assigned and the other to see all the features of the radio. The radio systems were mostly interlinked where could easily talk and receive to anyone needed. Of course, didn’t have permission to do either – or did ? When was given the radio wasn’t given any guidance on if, how and when could jump to another channel. was handed the radio with comment like “it is set to your channel, press this to talk, release to listen.” Better sense told me that very bad things would happen if dialed up the sheriff standing over yonder to ask question on the radio. That is political problem It has been my experience in working with large entities that intra-operable communications is the most critical segement and stills needs to be addressed. Regarding this, tell people that do intraoperable communications – if can get the Red Cross to talk to itself, my work is done. We establish communications up and down the chain of command, not between organizations. The task force or strike team on the ground needs to be able to relay messages with their management, who in turn needs to relay messages to theirs, and so on all the way back to and above the person responsible for the incident. Let’s face it; we all work for someone and they want to know what is going on at some level In non-governmental organization, interoperability with first-responders occurs at the command post, EOC or through 10-digit interoperability (aka the phone). An on-site liaison is assigned to pass information and requests between the NGO and others. This structured point of contact can manage the flow to the first-response agencies and build rapport that can yield benefits beyond the specific event. This is clear example that interoperability is not just done through equipment but is done person to person Thinking back to some of the larger incidents, communications within an organization – intraoperable communications – have been the embarrassing issue. The obvious one was during Katrina when the scope and scale as indicated from the damage assessment reports from the ground didn’t seem to get all the way to the POTUS. The attacks of September 2001 were another example where I’ve heard anecdotally that the operational actions of the front line responders didn’t quite match what the incident command post thought was occurring. I’ve experienced the first day or two of disaster the amount of time spent dispelling rumors, validating reports and the general confusion. And don’t mean confusion like the individual workers didn’t know what to do, but that the messages came across like bunch of people playing telephone. You recall playing that where one person tells something to another, who then tells third and so on. The final message is barely recognizable as from the first. That is political problem team of analysts is needed to gather information from all possible sources. Sort the information. Validate it. Then provide it to incident command in usable, actionable way. As budgets shrink and organizations are asked to do their mission with less, it is obvious that the people will be focused on the front-line of the mission, and less on the back-end coordination. There is bunch of EOC software applications that can be used to gather all the operational information into single stream, but have not found any that intelligently sort and direct the information. \\\\nI have searched the internet using Google for “first responder interoperable” and uncovered about 123,000 references. “First responder intra-operable” only hit 2500 times. I’m sure part of it is just that intraoperable isn’t even recognized word by my spell checker, and intraoperable was Federally funded. Why is it so hard to find information about how first-responder and similar organizations communicate internally to pass information during an emergency? Has the Incident Command Structure really answered the problem of passing information up and down the chain of command during an operation? Is intraoperable communications synonymous with intra-organizational communications?