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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Improving Collaboration Across Federal, State, and Local Agencies During Emergencies

Improving Collaboration Across Federal, State, and Local Agencies During Emergencies Homeland Security TodayThe United States federal government is designed to maximize civil liberties and freedoms while granting a great deal of autonomy to state and local governments. In a number of emergency communications crises, however, city, county and even state lines are crossed, which requires federal agencies to step in and help. This requires the bringing together of many responders, operations and technologies.

At the same time, with so much information, in so many different forms, it is an enormous task in and of itself to know what information to share, with whom, and how. Furthermore, threats against homeland security now put more than traditional public safety at risk and involve other public services. For example, threats targeting utilities could include a terrorist attack targeting the electrical grid. This makes collaboration and communication between organizations more important than ever before.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were the biggest example of this challenge. A national security incident simultaneously became a local emergency response situation. While the attacks were intended to threaten America as a whole, the physical damage resulting from the attacks was the burden of the individual, local communities where they occurred. This subsequently redefined the term “homeland security” and forced a hard look at how the nation could become better at preparing for emergencies, improving technological interoperability, breaking down organizational silos and using data to become more proactive.

More recently, the response to the Boston Marathon bombings signaled that improvements have been made in collaboration and unified communications to enhance public safety. Federal, state and local first responders came together using voice, video and images to track down and eventually apprehend the suspects.

What the response to the Boston Marathon bombings effectively demonstrated is that we need to address homeland security incidents in a command and control environment, with the federal government driving policy and technological collaboration to improve interagency communications at all levels.

FirstNet, the broadband network dedicated for use by public safety agencies across the country, and the biggest infrastructure project taken on by the United States since the national highway system, is a good example of this. While it will be a federal, state and local shared resource, it is managed at the federal level to ensure centralized command and control.

The same is true for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), the initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 system across the United States; its implementation will occur at the local level, but direction for its creation and funding must come from the federal government as current surcharges and allocation methods are unacceptable.

Taking a federally centralized command and control approach to collaboration is not just about policy. The federal government needs to ensure its technology is up to the task. Increased collaboration means that federal communication systems will not only need to interoperate with other federal agencies’ systems, but also with state and local systems.

Recent reports indicate that the Department of Homeland Security is planning substantial upgrades to its network strategy to improve its emergency response capabilities. This is something that other federal agencies should consider. In addition to establishing federally centralized command and control that leads to improved interagency collaboration, a smart network strategy can save agencies millions of dollars.

A smart network strategy should include:

One Central Engine

The most important part of a successful network strategy is having one central engine driving interagency collaboration. It has to be a shared centralized framework to ensure collaboration and communication across organizational barriers, but with the flexibility built in so that all involved parties can have the tools they need. The framework can be focused on all vertical industries, like utilities, to holistically address homeland security. The core technology should be scalable and application focused, with controls focused on roles and agencies. A single centralized system can also serve as a central data hub, bringing all data sources, including social media, into one place, making reporting and analytics possible. It allows for centralized control, while providing scale and flexibility.

Routing Protocol

Agencies should also have a routing protocol strategy for how information will be shared, not just within the agency, but with other agencies and out in the field. In today’s increasingly mobile environment, every endpoint has to be considered. It is no longer just devices, such as body cameras, but people as well. All of these should be included in a routing protocol strategy that determines how to connect and manage communications between them.

Site Telephony

Agencies should have a dedicated network for handling inbound calls for help as quickly and efficiently as possible. These calls will involve everything from citizen concerns to FBI enquiries. The dedicated network should be built on a carrier-grade switch that can be repurposed for wireless and VoIP, and is equipped to handle millions of voice and data calls. It should be a replacement for and in addition to basic telephony. Large agencies should consider an IP PBX that can handle at least 50,000 calls an hour. This site telephony also needs to be able to be deployed in a pinch and, most importantly, interoperate with state and local Emergency Services IP Networks (ESInets).

Video Integration

Agencies need to have a communications system that can handle all forms of content, particularly video. Police body cameras and car-mounted cameras have become prevalent tools and these pieces of the puzzle need to be available in real time to all agencies. This was a lesson learned directly from the Boston Marathon bombings, as local surveillance footage was used by the FBI to identify the bombers.

Dynamic Application Capability

Every agency has different tools they use to do just about everything, but they all need to work together. While one central system is needed in a command and control environment, it needs to support applications and mass collaboration between thousands of different enterprise communications technologies.

It is now common knowledge that it isn’t matter of if, but when the next disaster will strike. While the United States can never be fully prepared, it can be better prepared to mitigate risk and minimize catastrophe. To measure improvement, agencies across all levels of government must successfully communicate and the systems used to support this communication cannot fail. The good news is that the nation can improve inter-agency communications, enhance infrastructure and save money by avoiding the implementation of duplicate and triplicate systems. While incidents occur at the local level, leadership needs to be taken at the national level, not just from a policy perspective, but technologically as well.

Federally centralized command and control strategy and technology can break the silos frequently found in government agencies to improve collaboration.

Robert S. Clark is
Vice President of NEXTGEN Solutions at Unify. A career leader with a wealth of industry experience, Rob is a go-to-market visionary and startup executive committed to enhancing our nation’s safety and security modernization efforts. Focusing on Public Safety and Security industry needs, Rob has facilitated market entry and/or expansion of companies with complementary solutions and services looking to expand their reach and margin growth. A nationally recognized Subject Matter Expert on NG9-1-1 and Public Safety integration migration strategies, Control Room solutions and convergence strategies, Rob is an agent of change, an advocate and visionary for this industry, creating integration strategies which benefit public sector agencies and stakeholders.

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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