To look ahead five or 10 years and conceptualize interoperability standards, Washington state discovered it must first look back. To develop statewide interoperability standards with existing technology of various state and local agencies, it's important to first know what that technology is. So Washington's State Interoperability Executive Committee (SIEC), tasked with making interoperability a reality, began an inventory of all the state's radio systems.

Washington has forged ahead of most states in its quest for interoperability standards by passing legislation and taking the inventory. But it may be the first of many states to go down this path.

"If you go to virtually any state and ask for inventory of all radio systems or all radios that are in the state, most or all states will not be able to provide you a single list," said Clark Palmer, commander of the Electronic Services Division of the Washington State Patrol. "We want to get to a certain point in the future, and we need to know where we're starting from so we can build a map."

That map consists of the state's communications infrastructure, how it can be tied together and the costs of replacing or modifying it to eventually arrive at statewide standards for law enforcement, fire and emergency medical entities.

The SIEC, a committee of state and local agencies, was chartered by the Information Services Board and is staffed by the Department of Information Services. The SIEC has existed for years, but a recent piece of state legislation, Substitute House Bill 1271, gave the SIEC some backbone.

"Other states have taken different approaches [to the interoperability problem]" Palmer said. "We're out in the forefront in the fact that we have legislation and a legislative body with very tight time frames and different goals. I believe it is probably the only plan that tackled the issue on all approaches, including frequency management."

One of the bill's first orders was to direct the Information Services Board to appoint committee members that included representatives from the military department, the Washington State Patrol, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Natural Resources, city and county governments, state and local fire chiefs, police chiefs and sheriffs, and state and local emergency management directors.

The committee is responsible for developing and implementing statewide interoperability standards. One goal of the legislation is to address the spectrum issue by coordinating and managing use of state-designated and state-licensed radio frequencies.

The bill calls for the committee to have a final statewide public-safety communications plan in place by Dec. 31, 2004.

Interim deadlines and goals include completing an inventory of state-government-operated public-safety communications systems by Dec. 31, 2003, and completing an inventory of all public communications systems in the state by March 31, 2004.

Using Legacy Technology

Initially the SIEC considered requesting detailed information from each agency -- such as make of radio, channel capacity, appearance of radio frequencies -- but after noting the amount of work involved and the imminent deadlines, scaled back its approach.

The six-page document seeks responses mostly regarding the number of items and manufacturer of portable radios, mobile radios, base station radios, repeaters, console equipment and other hardware.

Palmer said asking for the original cost of the various radio systems was initially going to be part of the inventory, but that idea was scrapped. "It doesn't really matter what we paid for the radios to date. What we're trying to do is look at where we need to be in five or 10 years and what is it going to cost to either replace or modify these radios to meet that long-term goal."

Instead, the committee is asking for information it needs to create a baseline for the plan.

"In looking at it," Palmer said, "What do you do with all

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor