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Objective Six: System Life-Cycle Planning/Achieving Operability with Interoperability in Mind

Emergency response agencies that have not yet reached communications operability may not think they can begin to address interoperability.

But, on the contrary, it is critical that agencies consider interoperability needs during all of the steps of system life-cycle planning, even while in the process of establishing full operability. As an agency plans for the future of its communications system, it is important to consider that more and more emergency responders are being called to respond to multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional events on a national, statewide and regional basis. Planning strategically, with interoperability in mind is the best way to set an agency on the path to attaining both operability and interoperability in the future.

Operability: The First Step to Interoperability

Achieving operability is a critical step on the path to interoperability. As stated in the National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP), “Communications operability is a critical building block for interoperability; emergency response officials first must be able to establish communications within their own agency before they can interoperate with neighboring jurisdictions and other agencies.”

As far back as 1996, the nation was beginning to address interoperability but recognized the need to ensure basic level radio communications. In the Public Safety Wireless Advisory Committee (PSWAC) Final Report submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommuni-cations and Information Administration (NTIA) on Sept. 11, 1996, it states that, “At the most basic level, radio-based voice communications allow dispatchers to direct mobile units to the scene of a crime and allow firefighters to coordinate and to warn each other of impending danger at fires.” Without this capability, interoperability is not possible.

In the October 2006 Statement of Requirements for Public Safety Wireless Communications & Interoperability version 1.2 published by SAFECOM, the issue of interoperability and operability are considered complementary objectives. The report states, “Agencies must be operable, meaning they must have sufficient wireless communications to meet their everyday internal requirements before they place value on being interoperable, meaning being able to work with other agencies.”

Operability is of primary importance. But even as an agency establishes operability, interoperability can and should be considered. If agencies plan and build their systems without interoperability in mind, establishing interoperability down the road can be much more difficult.

Building Operability with Interoperability in Mind

With the philosophy of “achieving operability with interoperability in mind,” the office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is currently developing a comprehensive System Life-Cycle Planning Guide that outlines a step-by-step Technology Lifecycle Management (TLM) process, including specific interoperability considerations for each step of the process. OEC recognizes that public safety leaders are challenged with delivering a functionally sound system within the constraints of time, cost and availability.

Radio systems, like all technology, benefit from sound TLM—a growing technology concept that addresses all aspects of owning and managing a technology system. Figure 1 shows a graphical depiction of the System Life-Cycle Planning model on which the Guide will be based.

Figure 2 outlines a high-level preview of the guide currently in development. This outline lists the areas one should consider when creating a System Life-Cycle Plan based on TLM and includes basic interoperability considerations for each area. The final System Life-Cycle Guide, to be released in early 2010, will go into greater depth on each step, providing comprehensive guidance to achieving this model of system life-cycle planning.

Agencies should take the time to evaluate their current systems, both with operability and interoperability in mind. With a strategic approach to planning today, agencies can build interoperable communications capabilities into the DNA of their systems so down the road they will be prepared for both day-to-day emergencies and large-scale disasters.

Stay tuned for OEC’s complete System Life-Cycle Planning Guide, to be released in 2010, which will include a more detailed look into the system life-cycle planning concepts discussed in this article.

This article was prepared under funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications. It was originally published in

Emergency Communications Quarterly. The author, Douglas Onhaizer, is Director of Public Safety Programs at SEARCH, The National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics (

If you have any questions or comments about system life-cycle planning, please contact OEC at

For a copy of the PSWAC report, see home/pubsafe/pswac_al.pdf.

For a copy of the Statement of Requirements for Public Safety Wireless Communications & Interoperability

Version 1.2, go to the DHS SAFECOM website at For more information about technology management you can refer to the Law Enforcement Tech Guide: How to plan, purchase and manage technology (successfully!), A Guide for Executives, Managers and Technologists, published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2002.

Figure 2: High-level Preview of OEC System Life-cycle Planning Guide Under Development

Step 1 - Planning

• Complete a Thorough Needs Analysis • Document System Objectives – Business, Operational and Technical • Assess Funding Impacts (Initial System Cost) • Gain Management Buy-in

Interoperability Considerations

• Include stakeholders from all public safety agencies and other emergency responders (health, public works, etc.) that may be impacted • Determine regional mutual aid requirements • Identify available State assets (shared radio system, radio caches, etc.) • Research available radio frequencies (800/7000MHz, VHF, etc.) • Identify radio system partners (bordering jurisdictions, other public safety agencies, etc.) • Evaluate channel or talkgroup programming and capacity • Consider shared radio system versus individual local- or agency-specific

Step 2 - Acquisition

• Determine Procurement Strategy (RFP or Sole Source) • Document System Proposal Evaluation Process • Determine Funding and Milestone Payment Plan – Purchase or Lease Purchase

Interoperability Considerations

• Ensure requirements include P25 specifications where appropriate • Consider channel and talkgroup capacity issues relevant to radio subscriber unit • Evaluate encryption – ensure non-proprietary and not vendor-specific • Investigate patch and gateway capability – system to system, system to mobile, dispatch to dispatch

Step 3 - Implementation

• Ensure Coordinated Installation with All Stakeholders • Develop Risk Mitigation Plan • Develop Cut-Over Plan • Develop System Acceptance Test Plan • Ensure Adequate Training – Academy, In-Service, etc.

Interoperability Considerations

• Consider impact on all users, agencies and bordering jurisdictions – consider all emergency responders • Establish regional channel plan or talkgroup fleet map if possible • Consider radio system backup support from other local agencies and/or bordering jurisdictions

Step 4 - Support & Maintenance

• Develop Support Model – Internal or Vendor Supported • Create Service Level Agreements • Establish Inventory Management System – Document Assets • Implement Configuration and Change Management Practices • Establish Proactive Alarm Monitoring Procedures

Interoperability Considerations

• Consider using a regional maintenance model – shared engineers, technicians and spare parts • Establish a regional or local help desk – one number for assistance • Establish critical alarm protocol – what is critical, who receives the alarm, and who responds • Identify Incident Command System (ICS) Communications Unit resources to support use of the system on-site during larger-scale emergencies

Step 5 - Refresh

• Develop Technology Refreshment Plan – Capital Improvement Process and Secure Funding • Determine Software and Equipment Upgrade Process – Forklift or Upgrade • Establish Equipment Replacement Cycles – Radio Subscriber and Infrastructure “Useful Life”

Interoperability Considerations

• Keep abreast of current and evolving interoperability standards (P25, software defined radio, radio over IP, etc.) • Coordinate refresh and updates of local systems to mitigate the impact to mutual aid response on statewide, regional and local statewide interoperability • Consider shared resource plan (funding and staff) to allow for graceful regional technology refreshment – shared cost and assets will allow regions to move together

Step 6 - Dispose

• Determine Product Road Maps to Assess Disposition Cycles • Develop Asset Disposition Plan • Consider Merit of Repurposing, Reselling, or Discarding Used Assets

Interoperability Considerations

• Consider disposal versus re-use – older radios may not support interoperability • Engage vendors in product road map assessments – avoid “forced obsolescence” that will impact interoperability

Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2009

Rating : 9.5

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