10.15.2020|Business Tech

True interoperability ensures first responders have the technology they need

By: Andrés Irlando

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One of the most critical challenges facing first responders is interoperability: when those on the frontlines need to collaborate with one another across different government agencies during times of crisis, the simple act of sharing emergency, life-saving information is often impossible.

First responders need true interoperability, by which we mean the ability to communicate and share data with whom they need, when they need, regardless of network, device, platform or solution. Government agencies have tried valiantly to solve this decades-old, life-or-death challenge. The time is now, once and for all, for an industry-led approach, leveraging advances in technology to deliver this critical functionality to all public safety agencies and the communities they serve across the nation.

The terror attacks of 9/11 as well as annual large-scale natural disasters demonstrate clearly that a lack of interoperability has contributed to loss of life. Yet despite the rapid pace of technology evolution, progress toward interoperability has been slow. During a recent Verizon Town Hall event, former Arlington, Va., Fire Chief Ed Plaugher, a member of the Verizon First Responder Advisory Council (VFRAC), reminded us all that 9/11 was a tipping point that exposed the weaknesses of existing non-interoperable solutions.

“Interoperability reached its precipice on September 11 where we had a very difficult time, due to the nature of the terrorist attack, and we had the inability to provide a simple radio message and were overwhelmed,” he said. While collaboration and communication among first responders has improved over the years with Land Mobile Radios (LMRs), he added, “even they haven't fixed the problems of connecting to other agencies.” 

The time is now, once and for all, for an industry-led approach, leveraging advances in technology to deliver this critical functionality to all public safety agencies and the communities they serve across the nation.

By 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, police and firefighters from the same government agency could communicate with each other, but not with first responders from other municipalities.

VFRAC member Chief Daniel Oates, who led the Aurora, Colorado Police Department at the time of a mass shooting at a movie theater there in 2012, stated in our recent Town Hall: “When you have 250 people responding from 15 different agencies, you might technically have interoperability but with only one radio channel you don’t have communications. In an ideal world, the modern thinking of policing is several channels of interoperability: one for basic police operations, one for command, one for tactical operations and certainly one for speaking with other government agencies that you will be coordinating a response with.”

Verizon has decades of experience supporting public safety agencies. Today more federal, state, and local first responders rely on Verizon’s award-winning network and public safety-grade products and solutions than any other carrier. We understand from our customers and experience just how critical cross-agency communication and collaboration is during emergencies and natural disasters, which is why we support true interoperability and have spent years building out our capabilities to deliver it.

Driving interoperability forward

From law enforcement to emergency medical services to fire, the requirements for interoperability are similar across all critical public safety agencies: the need for dispatch connections, plus real-time situational awareness with access to maps, data and integrated communications and information sharing that ensures every agency and first responder is in the know.

For years now Verizon has been building our products and networks to ensure robust interoperability capabilities across agencies, jurisdictions, carriers, and devices: from priority network access built to the Department of Homeland Security’s standards, to preemption services that meet international standards and the technical requirements of federal, state and local public safety bids; from mutual aid roaming to our partner application ecosystem; from our public safety private network core to local network control functionality for commanders on the ground in an emergency; from LMR integration to our recently announced mission-critical Verizon Push-to-Talk Responder.

Collectively, these innovations give first responders what they need most: the situational awareness within and during emergencies to do their jobs effectively and collaborate with one another to save lives and to protect property. 

We cannot achieve true interoperability however until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards. Verizon isn’t waiting for that; we have partnered with Mutualink to enable first responders to easily create secure group communications for improved collaboration and data sharing in near-real time, giving agencies greater control and choice when cross-agency communications are mission critical.

Moreover, our interoperability roadmap continues to evolve at the pace of innovation. Verizon’s build out of 5G Ultra Wideband, for example, will enable first responders to take advantage of high-speed transmission and sharing of massive amounts of data through applications such as high-definition video.

We cannot achieve true interoperability however until all carriers, device manufacturers, platform and solutions providers commit to building their solutions to interoperability standards.

A call to action

To deliver true interoperability, Verizon and other industry leaders must work together to make it a reality. We believe an industry-wide coalition is the best way to advance true interoperability, by making it a core design principle for networks, the latest devices and software solutions and applications for public safety.

It’s time to get to work. We invite other industry leaders to join us. It’s simply the right thing to do for the dedicated public servants who risk their lives every day to save others--and for the millions of Americans they protect and serve.

For related media inquiries, please contact story.inquiry@one.verizon.com

To learn more, visit Verizon's Interoperability page.

About the author(s):

Senior Vice President and President, Public Sector and Verizon Connect at Verizon

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