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January 9, 2007

Government IT: US public safety technology spending to grow 7% over next five years

Despite the high priority placed on public safety by governments at all levels, first responders continue to struggle to communicate with peers in other agencies or jurisdictions as part of coordinated emergency response efforts. State and local governments must address both the technology and organizational issues that prohibit interoperability among public safety communications systems.

By CBR Staff Writer

US state and local government spending on first responders IT is set to reach $4.4 billion by 2011.

Spending by US state and local governments on communications technology for first responders is expected to rise from $3.2 billion in 2006 to $4.4 billion by 2011 as public safety agencies look for ways to collaborate and share information during critical situations.

Interoperability needed for effective emergency response

Interoperability is the ability to communicate and exchange information across disciplines and jurisdictions in real time, on demand and when authorized. Interoperability is critical to public safety since emergencies often require response from multiple organizations.

A lack of coordination has been cited as a key challenge during both the rescue efforts of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. But even smaller-scale incidents require first responder interoperability as public safety agencies must work together to diminish the impact of traffic accidents, building fires and criminal investigations.

Governments face challenges in improving interoperability

While state and local governments generally agree on the importance of developing interoperability, they face a number of obstacles as they attempt to realize this goal, including limited funding for new purchases, insufficient coordination among independent organizations and confusion over which technology approach to adopt.

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Public safety agencies have told Datamonitor that a lack of funding is their number one obstacle to improving interoperability. But we cannot overlook the fact that collaboration and collective decision-making is difficult in an environment where individual agencies or jurisdictions typically purchase equipment independently. Add to this the fact that agencies receive few directives on which technologies will help them enhance interoperability and there emerges a situation where state and local governments recognize the need to improve interoperability but lack the means to do so.

Technology and policy changes must be made

Achieving communications interoperability for first responders requires both technology and organizational changes. In recent years, a number of technology solutions have emerged to address public safety’s limited interoperability – such as Project 25 standards that enable radios to transmit signals regardless of manufacturer and network-based technologies that interconnect existing radio systems. However, deploying technology will not resolve all first responder interoperability issues. Agencies must also reform their policy and governance structures to support communication and collaboration with disparate organizations.

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