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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Capital Area Emergency Communications Interoperability Improving; Needs Work

Federal, state and local emergency management and first responding agencies in the National Capital Region (NCR) – which includes Washington, DC and nearby parts of Virginia and Maryland — continue to face challenges in developing and coordinating emergency communications interoperability, “that is, the ability to use radios to communicate across entities when needed,” a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit report stated.

GAO said, “The federal government has taken actions to improve interoperability in the NCR including allocating almost $720 million through a DHS grant program to enhance regional preparedness since fiscal year 2002, and establishing the Office of National Capital Region Coordination (ONCRC)” within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “to coordinate NCR entities on homeland security activities, including interoperability.”

GAO recommended ONCRC, “as part of its efforts to restructure the Joint Federal Committee (JFC), clearly articulate in a written agreement the roles and responsibilities of participating agencies and specify how they are to work together across agency boundaries.

ONCRC concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

GAO found that:

  • ONCRC participates in several committees that are involved in planning and carrying out efforts to build preparedness and response capabilities of the region. In particular, the director of ONCRC is a member of the NCR’s Senior Policy Group, which coordinates these efforts. The ONCRC staff helped develop the NCR’s 2013 Homeland Security Strategic Plan, one of the goals of which is to ensure interoperable communications capabilities. The Strategic Plan identified a number ofNCR initiatives to achieve this goal, including supporting the establishment and maintenance of radio interoperability and managing and coordinating radio upgrades across jurisdictions.
  • As part of the responsibility to serve as a liaison with entities in the NCR, ONCRC has collaborated with the NCR’s Emergency Preparedness Council (an NCR advisory body) to facilitate state and local agencies access to the DHS’s Urban Area Security Initiative grant program—the primary source of federal homeland security funding for the NCR. In fiscal year 2014, DHS allocated $53 million in grant funding to the NCR to enhance the region’s homeland security and preparedness capabilities. Almost $7 million of this amount was to fund activities, such as purchasing radios and other equipment, aimed at achieving the NCR Strategic Plan’s goal to ensure interoperable communications capabilities.
  • A key role of the ONCRC is to coordinate with federal, state, and local NCR entities on emergency preparedness and homeland security activities. However, the ONCRC currently does not have a formal mechanism in place to coordinate with federal agencies. From 2002 through 2014, JFC was the ONCRC’s primary means of coordinating with federal agencies in the NCR. The ONCRC has not convened the JFC since 2014 and plans to restructure it. Officials explained that the JFC was not efficient and effective as a coordinating body and that they plan to strengthen its coordination capabilities.“ However, written plans were not available,” GAO stated “When the JFC existed, its operation was not fully aligned with interagency collaboration mechanisms that GAO has identified. In particular, the JFC’s charter did not specify the roles and responsibilities of participating agencies or how they were to work together across agency boundaries. Addressing these interagency collaborative mechanisms in the planned restructuring of the JFC could provide greater clarity on roles and responsibilities and enhance its ability to coordinate federal efforts in the region.”
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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