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Working together toward interoperability

Written by Lance Valcour

When you bring the right people together, things get done. Proof of that is the progress made on a national voice interoperability plan and other related initiatives since the very successful Canadian Voice Interoperability Workshop: A CITIG National Forum, which took place in Ottawa, Ontario on March 27 and 28. While the Canadian Interoperability Technology Interest Group (CITIG) may have gotten the ball rolling, it’s the cooperation of many organizations both American and Canadian that has led the incredible momentum on the interoperability front for Canadian first responders.

Laying the Groundwork
The March workshop was the culmination of the first year’s existence of the CITIG. The group was only formalized in early 2007 under the auspices of the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC), when the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police (CACP) joined forces with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Emergency Medical Services Chiefs of Canada (EMSCC) to jointly work together to improve public safety interoperability in Canada. Early on, Canadian efforts were bolstered when the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council in the United States amended its charter to accept CITIG as its first international member. In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAFECOM program has welcomed CITIG as a participant on many of its initiatives, most notably the creation of the National Emergency Communications Plan. Thanks to many of these partners, the National Workshop solidified the “business case” for moving forward with a cooperative approach to improved public safety provider interoperability in Canada. In a very positive move, Public Safety Canada (PS) is now working with CITIG in developing the Canadian Voice Interoperability Plan. The process is still being refined. However, the current plan calls for about 30 public safety practitioners from across Canada to participate in creating the first “draft” of the plan via both teleconferences and a week-long facilitated session to be held in Ottawa later this fall. A substantial portion of the funding will come from PS, and the Canadian Police Research Centre will be helping out, too, by funding the travel and living expenses for attendees for the week-long session.

Building a National Voice Interop Plan
The draft plan resulting from the work done during the conference calls and facilitated session will be presented at the Second National Voice Interoperability Workshop scheduled for December in Toronto. Event delegates, expected to number about 200, will have an extensive opportunity to revise, refine, enhance and, they hope, endorse the overall scope and direction of the Canadian plan.

After the National Workshop, which will again be co-managed by the CAFC, CACP, EMSCC and CPRC, the Canadian plan will be presented to the executive of the main public safety associations for their comments and consideration. The goal is to have this draft plan—which will almost exclusively have been developed from the bottom up—presented to the government of Canada by March 31, 2009, with the intent to have the plan then sent to provincial counterparts and other federal departments for their input and consultation.

Second National Voice Interoperability Workshop
Building on the success of the March 2008 event in Ottawa, delegates will congregate again for the Second National Voice Interoperability Workshop, scheduled for Dec. 7-10 at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. A preliminary agenda has been set that includes speakers from Canada, the United States and Israel. There will also be an expanded technology exposition with many industry partners, and receptions on at least two of the evenings.

http://www.cacp.ca

Delegates to the Ottawa Workshop raved about the unique opportunity for public safety strategic decision makers, practitioners and technologists to mingle. One comment heard over and over was the fact that this is “not a technology issue” but one of “strategic risk management.”

With that in mind, all public safety providers are strongly encouraged to support the Second National Workshop and to ensure that not only are the IT and “radio” folks from their organizations attending, but the chiefs and their executive team. As this event will be the primary source of consultation on the National Voice Interoperability Plan (a STRATEGIC document for the entire country), it’s clear that executives with a strategic viewpoint are needed to help craft it.

Forums for All Audiences
Work on the national plan is not the only item on CITIG’s agenda. The group continues work on its information-sharing mission. To date, there have been seven regional CITIG forums held in Toronto, St. John’s, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Saskatchewan. Next up is the CITIG Maritime Forum, scheduled for Oct. 16 in Moncton and a Quebec CITIG Forum sometime in November.

http://www.cprc.org/citig

Equally important, a vendor outreach forum (VOF) will be held at the Toronto Conventions Centre on Oct. 8-9. This event, in partnership with the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance will bring industry and public safety practitioners together. The forum is designed to allow industry partners, who are so important to the way forward, an opportunity to educate us on their products and services and to allow our members to communicate (in a procurement safe environment) our needs and future technology directions to industry. This event deals with the broadest aspects of interoperability (voice, data, emergency management, in-building location, etc.).

http://www.cata.ca

Also, the CACP Informatics Committee, CPRC and CATA will be joining forces during a conference called “Supporting Public Safety Operations Through Current and Emerging Technology” on Feb. 15-17, 2009, in Victoria, BC, Canada. The International Conference deals with the broader “informatics” issues, but interoperability will be an important aspect of the program. While primarily managed by the CACP, this event, the fourth of its kind in Canada, is open to all public safety partners and is considered a “must attend” for strategic decision makers, technology managers and those interested in major event management. Piggybacking on this event, CITIG’s second British Columbia Forum will be held Feb. 18, 2009, also at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Research Funding Hits the Mark
There’s been a lot of talk, and there’s also been a lot of action. In fiscal year 2007-2008, the CITIG consulted broadly, and through the CPRC, it supported a number of research projects. A call for proposals ran from September to October 2007. Twenty-one proposals were received with a total value of funds requested at more than $1.6 million. In the end, eight projects were funded to a tune of over $300,000.

This fiscal year will feature another call for proposals—this time focused on the need to improve voice interoperability in Canada. The Canadian Police Research Centre started a new approval process this year called the “Science and Technology Advisory Committee.” This Committee, with representatives from across public safety, government and academia, reviews project submissions and approves those deemed appropriate and required. The new submission forms and communications collateral will be available in the next few months.

Moving Forward
Without a doubt, the evolution of CITIG from its humble beginnings can be characterized as significant. It is now an organization with more than 300 members from the responder community, all orders of government, associations, academia, international organizations and industry. The CITIG has made major strides in raising awareness about one of the single most important issues facing first responders today—public safety provider interoperability. Most important, interoperability stakeholders from Canada and the United States will be sure to benefit as the National Voice Interoperability Plan comes together.

For more information on Canadian efforts, please visit the CITIG Web site at www.cprc.org/citig. Any suggestions, questions or concerns can be sent via e-mail to citig@cprc.org.

Lance Valcour is an inspector with the Ottawa Police Service, currently seconded to the CPRC as the project manager for CITIG. In addition to his longtime participation as a member of the CACP Informatics Committee, he has compiled more than 30 years of experience working in operational roles and led many technology-related projects both with the Ottawa Police and in the private sector.

Published in Public Safety IT, Sep/Oct 2008

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