Aging and ineffective radio communications systems have threatened the ability of public safety agencies in Indiana to perform their most fundamental mission -- protecting the lives and property of Hoosiers.

Many law enforcement agencies across the state face the daily challenge of communicating via outdated radios -- some more than 20 years old. In addition to reliability and functionality issues associated with aging equipment, Indiana's current systems historically have been developed to support individual agency's requirements. As a result, public safety agencies now have multiple, independent, communications systems that provide radio coverage to the same geographical areas. This inefficient use of resources has led to channel congestion, duplication of effort, system obsolescence and lack of mobile-data functionality that inhibits agencies from communicating effectively with each other. When seconds often separate life and death during emergencies and disasters, this can result in significant casualties and additional destruction of property.

In response to these challenges, Gov. Frank

O' Bannon hosted the first Governor's Summit on Integrated Law Enforcement in December 1997, during which hundreds of law enforcement and public officials convened to explore ways to voluntarily share resources and information. O'Bannon then issued an executive order creating the Integrated Law Enforcement Council (ILEC), a body of several statewide law enforcement and local-government associations, including the Indiana State Police and the local office of the FBI, to further study the possibilities of creating interoperable statewide telecommunications systems. Since ILEC's creation, representatives have identified that sharing resources and the need for a statewide telecommunications system are necessary at all levels of public safety, and have expanded the council to include public safety members representing fire, emergency medical services and emergency management agencies. To better describe the integrated and coordinated approach of Indiana's public safety agencies, the initiative has been renamed Project Hoosier SAFE-T (Safety Acting For Everyone -- Together). This project has created the vision for the next generation of public safety communications in Indiana.

Beginning in April 1998, ILEC directed its consultant, The Warner Group, to begin developing the strategic plan for Project Hoosier SAFE-T. To facilitate the strategic planning process, The Warner Group completed public safety focus groups statewide, performed field reviews at several public safety communication sites and presented project updates during regional meetings throughout the state. This coordinated approach to strategic planning involved input from hundreds of public safety personnel who provided the needs and requirements for a statewide interoperable communications system.

Last November, over 400 public safety and local-government representatives throughout Indiana convened at the second governor's summit on Project Hoosier SAFE-T to declare their support for the project. ILEC ratified the Indiana Statewide Public Safety Voice/Data Strategic Plan in its entirety, thus confirming the collective participation in the development of a statewide interoperable communications system in Indiana. Through voluntary participation in the statewide system, the more than 2,300 state public safety agencies will develop the backbone on which they can link their communication networks.

Following one of the recommendations in the strategic plan, ILEC issued a request for proposals (RFP) to more than 135 voice- and data-communications providers to help identify the most comprehensive solution to Indiana's communication needs. With responses to the RFP due Aug. 30, ILEC can now begin reviewing proposed solutions, including a variety of voice and mobile-data alternatives.

Voice-Radio Alternatives

Conventional radio systems are the most popular type of two-way radio system in existence and have been utilized since the earliest public safety radio communications back in the 1930s. Characterized by frequencies dedicated to specific channels, a single frequency equates to only one usable channel. When one channel is in use, new users must wait their turn. This often leads to channel congestion and the nuisance of having to listen to other users' conversations. Although conventional radio systems are less complex and lower in cost than their trunking counterparts, radios operating on different frequency