Events such as the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina have highlighted the need for interoperable communications equipment that would enable emergency personnel from various agencies to communicate and coordinate their emergency response efforts. A report recently released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspections and Special Reviews calls for the accelerated adoption of standards that would enable wireless communications devices to operate with one another, regardless of make or manufacturer.
The Science & Technology directorate (S&T) is the research and development arm of DHS responsible for adopting standards for the equipment used by first responders. In the report, DHS inspector general Richard Skinner wrote that the efficiency by which S&T adopts voluntary consensus standards is hindered. To encourage the timely adoption of equipment standards, Skinner detailed recommendations for S&T to:
- improve tracking of standards activity
- determine methods by which standards adoption can be accelerated
- establish performance measures to achieve more timely adoption of standards
- re-evaluate the DHS-sponsored equipment listings for conformance to currently applicable S&T standards.
The S&T is currently considering the adoption of a suite of eight standards, known as Project 25, which would enable an interoperable digital communications system. The standards are being developed by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). TIA is also active in the work of ANSI’s Homeland Security Standards Panel (ANSI-HSSP), which has as its mission to assist DHS in accelerating the development and adoption of consensus standards critical to homeland security.
Project 25 addresses eight interfaces that will enable communications devices from different manufacturers to reciprocally send and receive messages. The standards will also allow for backward compatibility between devices, so that new equipment would be able to operate effectively with pre-existing digital and analog devices. According to the DHS report, several of the eight standards are expected to be set for adoption in 2007, at which time “it would be appropriate for S&T to adopt Project 25.”