March 19, 2009 By Jim McKay, Editor
Under CTO Claire Bailey's leadership, Arkansas has made notable progress toward interoperability by implementing its Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN). This 700/800 MHz system has greatly improved interoperability and eliminated some of the stovepipes that existed between public safety agencies and jurisdictions.
Q: How did Arkansas break out of the stovepipe scenario, where agencies and jurisdictions don't communicate?
A: After 9/11 it was decided by a key group within our leadership to look at funding mechanisms and start moving forward with an interoperable communication system.
The [Arkansas] Department of Emergency Management conducted a survey. Through that, they asked to the locals questions and got feedback from them to identify what they thought their priorities are. There are always so many priorities that exist. So we worked really hard to put together a committee that was representative of the people carrying the radios. Particularly with public safety, our goal was to listen to the people who carry the devices.
Q: How did you get all the stakeholders to the table?
A: We recruited people who were recognized across the state for their leadership. In particular, we talked to our Association of Arkansas Counties and we reached out to our County Judges Association and the Emergency Management Association. From there, we asked them to nominate who they wanted on the steering committee.
We complemented that group with the technology group -- that's the group I represent. Then our director of security management, who is also the homeland security officer for the state, and representatives from the governor's office, state police and [the technology group] formed the steering committee. We've since grown that group because now we are out of that implementation phase and into the operational aspects of it.
We also engaged an independent quality assurance group that does not work for the state. We did a request for proposal to find one that specifically engineers radio systems across the nation, and I use that in a degree of risk mitigation because -- from a state perspective, in the state-paid plan system -- I cannot hire at the salary that would compensate for the level of individuals I would need that we could get for that quality-assurance group.
Q: What hurdles did you have to sidestep during deployment?
A: For many people, the system we had been investing in had not worked, in their minds, and didn't support the state. So there was a lot of concern that we were going to create a new system and spend a lot of money on a technology that would not meet their needs. That made me realize how important it was to explain the differences between analog and digital to a live community of people who may or may not understand that process. We really had to make the system perform.
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