Interoperability Overview

In response to traumatic events such as multiple-car accidents, natural disasters, terrorism events, or high-speed pursuits, public safety officials from different disciplines and different jurisdictions need to share information effortlessly and in real time, or lives can be lost. They need “interoperability” for their radio systems. Interoperability allows multiple parties to exchange information when and where it is needed, even when disparate systems are involved. Lack of interoperability can severely hinder coordinated responses to natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, and criminal actions.

Interoperability Begins With Operability

Public safety communications interoperability can be achieved only by dealing first with the issue of operability. Operability pertains to the technology being in place and working correctly. It also requires that users know how to properly operate the technology. Focusing on interoperability as the only issue in first responder communications is unlikely to fully address many communication problems.

Challenges to interoperability include incompatible radio equipment, lack of a common language, the use of different frequency bands by different agencies, and governance (e.g., designated line of authority over who can talk and when).

Challenges to operability persist today despite considerable public attention to the problem. Most of the pressing issues identified by public safety practitioners are not being met because of limited resources. Another key obstacle is the lack of adequate radio spectrum. Other issues of operability include the capacity of communications systems to accommodate numerous users on a daily basis (and even more during times of crisis) and the need for additional infrastructure (e.g., towers, land lines, satellite capability).

Learn more about public safety interoperability from NIJ InShort fact sheets:

Next Section: Communications Technology Research Priorities.

Date Created: November 13, 2007