4 ways to ensure your department has interoperable communication systems

How to ensure end-to-end communication for public safety officers


By James Reid, Senior Manager of Systems Product Line Management

Every second counts when an emergency strikes, and it is crucial that first responders are able to depend on seamless communication. To ensure efficient and effective communication among various public safety departments and jurisdictions, first responders need to consider a number of components of what we call “operable communications.” Simply put, it’s the concept that communication networks, equipment, people and policies must consistently support first responders and public safety officials.

Interoperability, with its assurance that first responders can dependably communicate with other public safety agencies across jurisdictional lines, is extremely important. However, it is merely a part of the larger idea that communications gear and systems are only as good as their ability to work on-the-street at any given time.

While interoperability is a commonly understood term in the industry, we’ve spent countless hours meeting, riding and talking with first responders and public safety officials – and what we hear over and over is the importance of operable communication.

Operable communications  encompass both the technical aspects of interoperability and the day-to-day experience of those who use the equipment, with a focus on how it functions and enables them to do their jobs more effectively and safely. Below are some key considerations to ensure end-to-end operable communications.

1. Choose the technology standard for all radio manufacturers. Project 25, or P25 as it’s more commonly known, is the modern set of standards for digital radio communications. Used by federal, state and local public safety agencies in the U.S.,  the P25 standard enables agencies to communicate in emergencies. While most system developers of P25 platforms will work together, it is important to research and ask questions up front before committing to a long-term solution. Not all vendors are the same. To choose hastily may limit an implemented system from realizing its full and efficient potential.

2. Implement operability on all levels. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. There are two types of radios that allow for the best results for both voice and data driven communications. The first is the Land Mobile Radio (LMR) multiband communication system. Simply put, LMR is the tried and true voice technology that has served for decades, and multiband versions allow many levels and kinds of first responders to communicate whenever they need to, without having to carry multiple radios. By cutting down on “equipment clutter” and enabling communications interoperability, those using the system are much better equipped to effectively coordinate emergency response and joint operations, supporting multi-agency coordination and information sharing.  

Slightly newer to the public safety community, Long-term Evolution or LTE, is a complimentary technology to LMR networks. While LMR works great with voice capabilities, LTE proves to be stronger with data and together they ensure operable communications in virtually any scenario.

3. Secure Your BYOD communications. Mobile apps have become integral tools used in our daily lives, however, public safety professionals have had to rely on consumer-grade apps for critical response scenarios. But as technology advances, so do these platforms.

These apps are now able to leverage commercial LTE infrastructure, allowing every day devices to become critical communication tools. Recently, applications have even launched that allow users have access to push-to-talk (PTT) voice, presence and situational awareness capabilities via personal or agency-issued smartphones. First responders’ smartphones can function like a PTT first responder radio, while also tapping into the power of LTE technology to increase situational awareness and stay connected no matter where they are. Features like facial recognition and GPS tracking of officers and suspects are also available to help further streamline emergency response efforts, anywhere cell phones can connect.

4. Rely on strong dispatch technology. Dispatch centers can be chaotic, and dispatchers are often wrestling with multiple systems, screens and keyboards to effectively do their jobs. It is crucial to have dispatch consoles that streamline communications and use virtualization, designed with real dispatchers in mind to meet on-the-go needs and high reliability demands of a public safety dispatch center.

Divining the future of technology can be a tricky task, as advancements are being made almost daily, however there are a few key upgrades public safety officials will likely see in the next few years, withthe first being dedicated broadband networks.

The build-out of the new National Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) will allow first responders to do things they could never have imagined doing before through the new technical capabilities of LTE products and solutions. As technology and requirements change, these LTE capabilities will be used in concert with existing LMR systems, and together, they’ll give responders unparalleled voice and data capabilities, all in a converged experience. The public safety communications industry will also see more “smart” public safety grade devices that will change, for the better, the way those who protect us do their vital jobs.

About the author

James Reid has been with Harris for over 20 years with experience in Product Management, Operations, Development Engineering, System Test Management and Cellular System Deployment. He is currently serving as the Senior Manager of Systems Product Line Management. The Sales Engineering team works closely with Sales for both the direct sales force and the dealer channel to build strategies and relationships with customers and consultants to build industry leading solutions with Harris. Through his career Jim has been fortunate to be involved in the launching of several technologies in different capacities from Digital Cellular, to Digital EDACS, P25 Phase1, OpenSky and P25 Phase2.

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