Ten years in the making, Colorado’s vision of perfecting communication between public safety agencies will finally begin.

This week the Governor’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) announced a new program offering free radio training to law enforcement and other first responders that will allow agencies statewide to communicate more effectively with one another.

The Colorado Interoperability Training Program will focus on teaching a set of standards that will give a diverse group of professionals a better understanding of radio equipment and a shared language to be used both during emergencies and for day-to-day communications.

Other states have implemented similar programs on smaller scales, but Colorado’s statewide effort is might be the most ambitious yet. As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the need for education becomes critical, said Dara Hessee, chief of staff with the Governor’s Office of Information Technology.

“This [training program] is really the first of its kind in the U.S.,” Hessee said.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program, the OIT will work with the Statewide Interoperability Executive Council (SIEC) to meet the program’s target of filling gaps in knowledge.

Officials said the training program was prompted, in part, by incidences of communication breakdowns because some public safety workers didn’t sufficiently understand the capabilities mobile or portable equipment they had, or didn’t have adequate knowledge about the communication systems used by neighboring jurisdictions.

In a press release from the OIT, Dan Qualman, chief of the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority and chairman of the SIEC, emphasized the need for programs like this one: “Looking at incidents that have occurred in Colorado, we realized that at times communications failed because of insufficient training for our first responders. This project provides a standard approach to training our agencies and ensures we are all on the same page when it comes to public safety communications,” Qualman said in a statement.

Statewide interoperability coordinator Clint Goldenstein said training has already begun and delivering the program to local agencies has been a success thus far. The program began with the training of 300 trainers who now travel around Colorado to spread the program.

Training covers everything from basic radio training to advanced operation of specific radio equipment. Training topics include incident escalation, National Emergency Communications Plans, signal encryption and radio caches.

Agencies will have the option for either online or classroom training and a menu of classes to choose from, which can range from several hours to several months in length depending on the needs of the agency. Making the program easy to access, convenient and customizable was important, Goldenstein said. “We’re trying to bring the training to them,” he said.

In addition to Web-based and classroom training, the program also offers illustrated workbooks that outline the radio equipment, and the policies and procedures required by a given agency.

Retraining existing employees is a large part of the program, but standardizing how new employees in the state are trained may prove to have an even more permanent impact. Not every first responder will be trained within the next year, Goldstein said, but this is the first step in creating a new standard for communication.

Want a taste of the program’s syllabus? Here’s an outline of the Web-based training module:

Web Based Training –

Module 1 – Radio 101

Public Safety Radio Frequencies

  • Spectrum bands and descriptions
  • Definition and difference between frequency, channels and talkgroups
  • Standardized channel naming

     

Radio System design

  • How radio systems work
  • Definition and description of sites, base stations, repeaters, consoles
  • Explanation of how radio waves work

    Propagation examples

Types of radio systems

  • Conventional simplex, conventional repeaters, simulcast, multi-site simulcast and trunked system descriptions
  • Trunked radio talk processes and operations

     

Radio Procedure and Etiquette

Analog vs. Digital voice transmissions (Analog facing vs. digital distortion)

Radio Encryption

Radio usage tips

Common language

Trouble shooting tips

Incorrect use of radios

Module 2 – Interoperability Basics

Definition of operability

Definition of interoperability

  • Interoperability examples

National Emergency Communications Plans (NECP)

  • NECP Goals

Overview of Interoperability Continuum

  • Governance
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Technology
  • Training & Exercise
  • Usage

Interoperability Solutions

  • Case Studies and Examples
  • Radio Caches (including Colorado-specific locations)
  • Gateways (including case study)
  • Fixed gateways, portable gateways and how they work

  • Shared channels
  • Shared talkgroups
  • Shared systems
  • Examples of Colorado specific systems
  • Non-Technical solutions
  • Incident escalation and ICS
  • Day-to-Day Incidents
  • Mutual Aid Incidents
  • Communication Unit Roles
  • Communication Plan
  • Radio User Accountability (including case studies)

Module 3 – Colorado Interoperability

Why interoperability is necessary

  • Colorado case studies
  • Lessons Learned

History of Colorado Interoperability

  • System of Systems approach

Mutual Aid and Interoperability Channel/Talkgroup organization

  • What types of channels are available (VHF- 700-800)
  • National Interoperability Field Operations Guide

Colorado specific regional interoperability resources

  • Channels, talkgroups, gateways

Policy and procedure

  • Case Studies and Lessons Learned

Radio User Accountability

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com